It's known but rarely thought of that the laws in other countries will be different from those of your home country. Much to the dismay of immigrants the world over, they arrive and live in the new country for long periods of time only to find out something that was common in their own culture will get them arrested, their children taken away or worse in their new country. A 2012 article spawned a significant debate among the immigrant and expat communities that highlights just how drastic some of the legal differences can be.
If you haven't seen it, the article is told from
the perspective of two Indian parents who had their children taken away
from them while they were living in Norway. In the article the parents
mention that they were taken because the children were being hand fed
and slept in the parent's bed. While I attempt to make no determination
of their guilt or innocence, this highlighted a very real threat faced
by individuals and parents who move abroad.
In this particular
instance, let's first discuss the law in Norway. Under the Children Act:
Chapter 5 Parental responsibility and where the child shall live
permanently. Section 30 Meaning of parental responsibility. The child is
entitled to care and consideration from those who have parental
responsibility. These persons have the right and the duty to make
decisions for the child in personal matters within the limits set by
sections 31 and 33. Parental responsibility shall be exercised on the
basis of the child's interests and needs.
Those who have
parental responsibility are under obligation to bring up and maintain
the child properly. They shall ensure that the child receives an
education according to his or her ability and aptitude.
child must not be subjected to violence or in any other way be treated
so as to harm or endanger his or her mental or physical health. This
shall also apply when violence is carried out in connection with
upbringing of the child. Use of violence and frightening or annoying
behavior or other inconsiderate conduct toward the child is prohibited.
Regarding the right to make decisions on behalf of the child in
financial matters, the provisions of Act No. 3 of 22 April 1927 on
Guardianship shall apply.
And further, this passage comes
directly from a brochure provided by the Welfare Association: "Parental
responsibility involves an obligation to care for the child. Parents
must give their children love, safety and attention, care. Child care
also involves the important task of stimulating and social contact.
Parents are prohibited by law from using any form of violence (including
light smacks and slaps) in connection with upbringing. Nor shall
children be subjected to frightening or annoying behaviour or other
Both apply to this case. If you consider
the details about there being absolutely no harm to the child
physically or mentally, it is possible someone could have legitimately
felt that the children were in danger. As we all know too well that some
individuals are very easily offended and overreact even in safe
environments all because of their own misunderstanding.
article mentions that the welfare association was calling the feeding of
the children by hand "force feeding." I think this throws up a red flag
on both sides of the argument. Since neither of the children in the
pictures appear to be morbidly obese or even just obese for that matter,
it stands to reason that this scenario is likely being overplayed. Yes,
parents can force-feed children but the reality is that doesn't mean
the child will eat it, swallow it, or keep it down. There was no eating
disorders mentioned in any of the online articles revolving around this
story. Children are notoriously picky when it comes to food and it's
more likely that maybe the child didn't like a food, mom made him eat it
anyway for the health benefits and someone wasn't happy that she did it
and turned them in. I think most of us have had similar experiences
with foods like broccoli or spinach and mom insisted we eat it no matter
how bad it tasted to us.
Feeding with the hands would be an
absurd reason to remove children from a home from a legal standpoint and
there is no indication in Norway law that says it is illegal to feed
children in this manner. After all, you don't need a spoon for french
fries or other finger foods and playing airplane can be quite an
effective technique to lure a picky eater into eating.
Co-sleeping has long been controversial in many countries. Yes, it has
the potential to be dangerous, but it is also scientifically proven to
benefit babies as well. So this keeps most countries from banning the
practice. Not to mention many cultures still practice this as a means of
survival. Not every culture in the world has standard indoor heating
during the winter months and body heat is crucial to life during harsh
months. Co-sleeping is also not mentioned in Norway law as being
considered detrimental to children. In my research I was unable to find
any reference to other cases of children being removed from the home for
In Indian culture, both of these practices are
common, everyday practices. Children sleep with their parents well into
their teen years due to the limited space, comfort it provides the
child, cultural and for many other reasons. So it would not been out of
character for these parents to feed their child with the hands or allow
them to sleep in the same room. These same behaviors, though not as
common, occur in most of the countries in the world -- including the
U.S. and UK. What child hasn't had a nightmare and ran from their own
room to mom and dads when they can?
Regardless of what is
happening to this specific couple, there are other immigrants facing the
same dilemmas. There is no excuse for not knowing the law, and I doubt
any country includes a disclaimer for ignorance of the law. It is
important to research and understand how moving to a new country will
require changes in your normal behavior. This includes downloading
torrents, swatting babies on their diaper, making children stand in the
corner, slapping an unruly suitor and more. No one wants to land
themselves in jail abroad.