Growing up scared
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It is publicly known that the parents in the actual case were sentenced by the General Civil Penal Code, Section 219. According to this provision, a person who by threats, duress, deprivation of liberty, violence or any other wrong grossly or repeatedly maltreats his or her children, spouse or other person in his or her care, shall be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years. In Norway, there has been a strong political ambition over several years to increase the level of sentences in cases of mistreatment and abuse of children, to set a proper standard that can have a preventive effect on a general basis. The parliament has encouraged the courts to follow up on that.
In the Norwegian debate on the Indian case, some representatives from Norwegian cultural minorities have argued cultural differences must be a part of legal assessments, and that minority families struggle to get public authorities to understand their way of living and upbringing of children. Some parents experience a too narrow and "Scandinavian" interpretation of what is in the best interest of the child. The Norwegian authorities are supposed to recognise and take these experiences into account, and also have to address the fact that, in Oslo, families of cultural minorities are over-represented in child welfare statistics. Having said that, about 90 per cent of all Norwegian child welfare measures consist of voluntary, preventive measures as economic support, support for leisure activities, kindergarten, etc.
It is a fact that there exist cultural differences between India and Norway, in the upbringing of children, and maybe also in the view of children as individual members of society in their own right. But the Norwegian legal system (courts, administrative authorities, etc) cannot permit cultural arguments to serve as mitigating circumstances in cases of mistreatment and abuse. Particularly, the courts have a responsibility to avoid double legal standards based on cultural differences in such cases. This has been stressed by other minority representatives too, as part of the Norwegian discussion. Nevertheless, that does not prevent the Norwegian child welfare authorities from realising the big challenges in communication and trust towards our minority population, and that there is a lot of work to be done in the field. The debate on the Indian case has contributed to increasing public and political attention and consciousness on these questions, and hopefully that will result in a more sensitive approach towards minority families in general.
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