Growing up scared

A look at the Norwegian regulations behind the sentencing of an Indian couple for mistreatment of their child

At present, there has been a debate in Norwegian and Indian media on a case in which an Indian couple was sentenced to 15 and 18 months of jail, respectively, by the Oslo District Court, for having mistreated their six-year-old son. The mistreatment consisted of physical punishment and threats, including burning and beating. The court considered, beyond any reasonable doubt, that such mistreatment had taken place for a period of six-seven months. Here are the main Norwegian regulations on child maltreatment.

In 2011, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child published its second General Comment on violence against children, clarifying the interpretation of Article 19 in the Convention: "The Committee has consistently maintained the position that all forms of violence against children, however light, are unacceptable. 'All forms of physical or mental violence' does not leave room for any level of legalised violence against children... definitions must in no way erode the child's absolute right to human dignity and physical and psychological integrity by describing some forms of violence as legally and/ or socially acceptable."

The Norwegian national regulation on violence against children expresses an interpretation of "violence" very close the committee's definition. The Act of Parents and Children states that the 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 the upbringing of the child. Use of violence and frightening or annoying behaviour or other inconsiderate conduct towards the child is prohibited.

According to the Norwegian Child Welfare Act (CWA), all employees in public service, and other professionals working with children, have a duty to contact the Child Welfare Service (CWS) when there is a reason to believe that a child is being mistreated or exposed to other forms of serious neglect or abuse by their care persons. If a boy tells his teacher he does not dare go home after school because he fears being punished, that teacher may then be obliged to call the CWS. The CWS may then remove the child from home, and report the suspected mistreatment to the police. Pursuant to the CWA, such immediate removal can only be made if there is a real risk that a child will suffer serious harm by remaining at home.

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