By Gagani Weerakoon
Aggrieved Sri Lankan Tamil parents, whose children have been forcibly taken away by Norwegian Child Welfare Authorities and placed in foster care, are planning to launch a hunger strike, taking their campaign for justice and to get back their children, to the next level and create a broader global awareness about the actions of the Norwegian Government.
“We’ve met and decided to launch a hunger strike to bring it to the notice of the authorities as well as the outer world, about the unfair practices of the Norwegian authorities. After all, the authorities are depriving children of their families and denying them their culture by forcing them to adapt to a different culture,” T. Anantharajah, said, speaking to Ceylon Today from the Norwegian capital.
Anantharajah, who has also been victimized by the bizarre actions of the Norwegian Child Welfare Authorities to ensure the so called wellbeing of children, said with their campaign, victimized parents from different nationalities and backgrounds had expressed their willingness to open up about their dilemma.
“Many parents were initially scared to talk about the issue, fearing they might get into trouble. Once we started campaigning, people who came from different countries and cultures joined us. They are now willing to come forward. A few days ago, we met and decided to take our campaign to another level,” Ananthan said, adding that have decided to keep the venue of the hunger strike a secret.
The aggrieved parents have written to human rights organizations in the United States of America, Canada, France, and even to Geneva, seeking some form of redress to their plight.
“The Human Rights Commission in France responded to us saying that they are at the moment studying the situation and requested us to keep on feeding them with updates, so that they can take it up at a suitable forum,” he said.
Anantharajah has three children namely, Thamilini, Ealavan and Yarlini aged 12, 10 and eight years respectively. All three children were born in Norway and all three children had been forcibly taken away by the authorities and placed under the care of two foster families.
The plight of the Tamil children came to light, when a group of Sri Lankan Tamils living in Norway, whose children are alleged to have been forcibly taken into Norwegian State custody, wrote to Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, seeking government intervention for their release and return.
Taken by force
Children from 60 Tamil families have been forcibly taken away for dubious reasons, ranging from unhygienic feeding habits to embraces that are allegedly sexual in nature.
According to the letter already forwarded to the Defence Secretary, parents whose children were taken away by the Norwegian Child Welfare Authorities, claim their offspring have been handed over to Norwegian couples for foster care. They also claim their children have been prohibited from conversing in their mother tongue, Tamil, or any other language, apart from the Norwegian language.
In an earlier interview, Selvathurai Magatmajothi, a victimized parent, described the reasons attributed for the forcible removal of the children as ‘extremely dubious,’ and said that on a previous occasion, several Indian parents had undergone a similar situation.
The Indian children had been taken under foster care on claims that they did not have a healthy environment to grow up in, with the parents accused of hand feeing their children.
In the case of the Tamil children, the Sri Lankan born parents have been accused sexually abusing their kids, because of the manner in which the children are mollycoddled. In one particular case, the authorities had taken away the children, because the whole family shared one room.
Magatmajothi claimed the Sri Lankan families were not the only victims and that parents of five nationalities have joined them to protest the action of the Norwegian authorities.
Words, like stones let go…
Confirming this, an Iraqi Kurdish father, speaking to Ceylon Today from Norway, said his only child was also taken away by the Norwegian Child Welfare Authorities, who had deemed him incompetent to ensure the wellbeing of his child.
The man who had migrated to Norway seeking political asylum said, “I came to Norway some 17 years ago and things were better then. I am a single parent and was bringing up my son all alone. He was the only family I had left and in the same way the Sri Lankan parents are suffering now, I have been deprived of my child for many years.”
He alleged the Norwegian authorities had accused him of mistreating his kid, a claim he described as absurd, as father and son were really close to each other. “I took great care of him,” he said, emphasizing that the issue was not a matter limited only to parents of Sri Lankan Tamil origin.
According to him, his son had told his class teacher once or twice, not to inform his father about his bad grades, as he might get beaten at home.
“They readily believed what the child said at that moment to get away from doing class work. Ultimately I lost the only person of my own in this world,” he said, nearly breaking into tears.
The parents also charged that some children complained of being treated as domestic aides at the house where they have been put up for foster care.
“When the family is having meals, our kids are asked to refrain from coming into the dining place and ordered to stay away. They cried and pleaded, disclosing the hell they are in,” said Dilanthi Joseph, another victimized parent, explaining that they had been told the children had been placed at a childcare centre according to the rules and regulations of Norway.
“We respect the rules of this country but then, on considering the harassment faced by our children, we are appealing for some relaxation of the law,” she said, adding that in the Tamil culture, a daughter attending puberty is celebrated in the same way a wedding is celebrated.
“But we all were deprived of such rituals thanks to these draconian laws,” she added.
Dilanthi, whose three children Inookka, Meloni and Mario were also taken into state custody, lamented that they were only allowed to see the children once in three months and that it was heartbreaking to see them crying and complaining about being put under foster care.
Marte Lia Torskenaes, Media Spokesperson of the Norwegian Embassy in Colombo last week said, that in Norway the welfare, safety and the rights of the child are taken very seriously.
Protecting the child
“In cases where children are either mistreated or have not been given satisfactory care, the local authorities are obliged by law to implement measures to protect the child,” Torskenaes said, adding that in serious cases, the local child welfare protection services have the right to take over the custody of the children.
Meanwhile, the Sri Lanka Human Right Commission (SLHRC) said there is a possibility of taking up the issue with the Norwegian authorities or at an international forum, as the matter amounts to the breach of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, adopted by member countries of the UN in 1966.
“Norway too is a signatory to the Covenant, which says all peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right, they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development,” Dr. Prathiba Mahanamahewa, commissioner of the SLHRC said.
He said however, the level of interference would depend on the type of citizenship these aggrieved parents are holding.
“One must understand that our mandate is limited to the citizens recognized by the 1978 Constitution. These lamenting parents I understand had migrated to Norway long ago and some might have become citizens there. When they become citizens of another country, we do not have a say. But we can still make a request to those authorities,” he said, noting if there are parents holding dual citizenship or Permanent Residence Visa, the SLHRC can still intervene, but the level of interference is less or zero if they have become permanent citizens of Norway.
“We can emphasize on the 1966 International Covenant as this amounts to breach of the Covenant despite Norway being a country having high regards for the protection of human rights. A signatory to the Convention should recognize and uphold the right to practice different cultures, even they belong to a minority group. What is happening at Norway- by forcing children descending from different cultures- to adapt to Norwegian culture and traditions- is similar to that of an unethical conversion of one religion to another religion,” he added.
Dr. Mahanamahewa, also said that there is a possibility of starting an inquiry into the matter on its own, based on reports, but it would be much more legitimate if a parent could lodge a written complaint to the Commission.
How Sri Lanka hopes
to tackle the issue Relatives of the victimized parents met several political parties and individual politicians during the past few weeks.
Democratic People’s Front Leader (DPF) Mano Ganesan, and UNP Parliamentarian, Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena, last week acknowledged to Ceylon Today that a group of relatives had brought the matter to their notice.
“I asked them to bring all the documents pertaining to the matter to me as I have to get to the bottom of the issue. I am well aware as to how well the Norwegian authorities treated Sri Lankan Tamils who fled the country seeking political asylum in the 1990s. Therefore, it is too early to comment in favour of any party as yet. However, as soon as I get the documents I will discuss the matter with the Norway Ambassador in Colombo,” Dr. Jayawardena said.
However, DPF Leader Mano Ganesan when contacted yesterday said he does not wish to make any remarks about the matter.
Meanwhile, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) said they are planning to raise the issue in Parliament, when the session starts for the month on 18 September.
“A group of relatives from Jaffna met us in Colombo and discussed the matter. We are planning to raise the matter as a question in Parliament. When the sessions begin next week we will discuss how we can put it forward. First we have to get it included in the Order Paper,” JVP Propaganda Secretary Vijitha Herath said.
How India tackled the issue
India issued a demarche to Norway conveying ‘serious concern’ over the issue of the Scandinavian country taking away two children from an Non Resident Indian (NRI) couple. It has also advised Norway on the need for taking into account India’s social and cultural traditions, besides demanding access to the children who are currently in foster care.
Anurup and Sagarika Bhattacharya’s children Avigyan (3) and Aishwarya (1) were taken under protective care by Barnevarne (Norwegian Child Welfare Services), which claimed emotional disconnect with the parents, and placed them in foster parental care, according to a directive of a local Norwegian court. The couple had appealed against the court decision.
“The embassy in Oslo vigorously pursued the matter with the Norwegian foreign ministry on December 28. A similar demarche was made with the Norwegian embassy in New Delhi on December 29,” a statement by the MEA noted.
The Indian government emphasised that the children be allowed to return if the parents decided to return to India as there could be no doubt that it would be in the “long-term interest of the children as they would be brought up in the loving care of their extended family” in India, the MEA stated. courtesy: Ceylon Today