When Norway's Ambassador to the United States, Wegger Christian Strømmen, met with a Hindu organisation in Washington on January 25, he intended to explain the workings of the Norwegian Child Welfare Services (CWS) system in the context of the CWS removing two Indian children from their parents, Anurup and Sagarika Bhattacharya, and taking them into its care.
However, he was in for a surprise. A few days ahead of their meeting with the Ambassador the Hindu America Foundation (HAF) launched an online petition with the title... “Ambassador Wegger Chr. Strømmen: Reunite Indian Family in Norway: Feeding Children by Hand is Not Abuse,” apparently linking the Ambassador to remarks on a sub judice case in Norway.
While the removal of three-year old Abhigyan and one-year old Aishwarya from their parents raised a stormy debate in India on the merits of the CWS' actions, Mr. Strømmen told The Hindu of the HAF's petition, “I think what they did is that they attributed to me [certain points] on the merits of the case itself, which is not the case at all... That is not the truth.”
Media reports have suggested that the Bhattacharya children were placed in the CWS' care for reasons relating to how they were fed and their sleeping conditions and home. However in remarks sent to The Hindu by the Norwegian Embassy here, officials denied the charge.
They said that while the specific reasons for the children's removal from their parents were confidential, “What we can say is that the decision had nothing to do with the children being fed by hand or sleeping in the same bed as the parents. There must, therefore, be compelling grounds for placing a child in care outside the home. Deviation from usual norms does not constitute sufficient grounds for placing a child in care.”
Regarding the controversy surrounding the HAF petition, the Ambassador clarified that he was indeed interested in understanding the HAF's view on the case after a decision was made on the case “that everyone agreed with,” and had said to the HAF that he would be willing to engage in a discussion with them at that point.
Yet, Mr. Strømmen emphasised that he would be drawn into commenting on the case itself, saying “I have been a magistrate myself, in the 1980s... Having been a magistrate, I have all the respect for the judiciary. Although I could easily say something about that it would be wrong because [the case] is in the hands of the [courts].”
The story has been amended for clarity.