“I thought we had very painfully worked out an agreement that would hold, but that seems not to be the case”
Norwegian officials reacted cautiously to Tuesday’s drama involving the two Bhattacharya children in which they were first taken away by the police from their uncle’s home in Burdwan only to have the Calcutta High Court order that they be returned immediately.
Custody of the two children was handed over to their paternal uncle last year by a Norwegian court that was considering the charge of the child welfare authorities in Stavanger, where their parents lived at the time, that the mother was “unfit” to give her offspring proper care. Under an agreement brokered by the Norwegian and Indian governments, both parents, Anurup Bhattacharya and his wife Sagarika, agreed to hand over custody of the children to the paternal uncle Arunabhas Bhattacharya. The Norwegians spent four months training the uncle on how to handle the special needs children.
Asked about the police decision to remove the children from the uncle’s custody, Knut Haanes, Deputy Ombudsman for Family Affairs in Norway told The Hindu: “We cannot comment on the situation of the case in India. I can only say that the case in Norway was one where there were reasonable grounds to suspect the children were not taken proper care of and there were grounds for the child care authorities to intervene… There was a solution, however, when the children were transferred from the child care authorities to the uncle resulting in the transport of the children back to India in the uncle’s care.”
Lessons can and should be learnt from this episode, Mr. Haanes added. “We must learn that steps taken by the Norwegian child welfare authorities can never be followed up once the children are out of Norwegian jurisdiction and I am not talking only of these children but any child. And these cases which are global in many ways are extremely difficult because you get different sets of jurisdictions, different attitudes towards children, different cultures, different laws. So we must be prepared to take steps to protect children in Norway [since] once the children are out of Norway there is nothing we can do.”
On its part, the Norwegian foreign office was more guarded. “We have seen reports on the recent developments involving two Indian children, who came back to India from Norway with their uncle early in 2012,” spokesperson Frode Anderson told The Hindu. “The current issue is between the Indian family and Indian authorities to decide. The Norwegian authorities had the best interests of the children in mind when the case was being handled in Norway, and we are confident that the Indian authorities also have the same sentiment behind their conclusions.”
Gunner Toresen, head of the Child Welfare services, said the news of the children being wrested from their uncle had saddened him. “I thought we had very painfully worked out an agreement that would hold, but that seems not to be the case. There has been no way we could keep in touch with any public authority in India. We tried to address Indian authorities through the foreign office but there was no response.”