LEAVE THOSE KIDS ALONE!


The recent story in the press about Norwegian child protection services taking way two young children belonging to  the  Indian couple Anurup and Sagarika Bhattacharya has raised a lot of debate. The reports indicate that the Indian couple living in Norway have been accused of being “unfit” to be parents and hence the intervention of the child protection services who have taken the children away to be put in foster care. While the reasons do not appear to be very clear – one point that keeps appearing in most of the stories is about the objection taken by the authorities to the fact that the children sleep with their parents and are fed by hand!

 Surprised? Well, so was I when I read these reasons. While I am not sure if these are THE reasons, the fact that they are mentioned raises some concerns about cultural sensitivities. Tell me, how many of us in India have slept with our parents till we were teenagers? And about being fed by hand.. I feed myself with my hands and so is it unnatural if I were to feed my child with my hands? Spoons are western cutlery that do not figure in a traditional Indian kitchen.

So the question that is bothering me is why were the Norwegian authorities so insensitive to this?

Child rearing practices are very closely linked to the society that we live in. There are tribal communities who leave their children away in forests to learn survival skills and some other communities who get their adolescent children together  to experiment with each other and  learn about sex. Is it right for us to say that these are “wrong”? These practices are linked to the lifestyle of the people living in these societies. A child who is from a tribal community needs to learn how to survive in a forest as much as an adolescent in certain society needs to learn about sex so that procreation is not a problem. But when we look at it from our context they may seem bizarre and even perverted! The point is to see it through the lens of the communities practicing them.

It is really unfortunate that the Norwegian authorities have not been able to look at it in that way.

The issue of foster care itself is something that can be contested. It is a very western concept  followed in  countries where the social systems are breaking down and therefore the need for state intervention to “rescue” children and put them into the care of families that are paid to look after them. It does not in anyway suggest that these families would provide the love and affection that children require for their upbringing. There are also numerous cases of foster parents abusing the children under their care. Therefore , how can we expect that children being taken away into foster care would solve the problem?

While not contesting the fact that the Indian couple in question may  have had their problems in extending the right type of care for the two young children, therefore affecting their development, would it not have been better to have counseled them and tried to understand what are the drivers behind the so called “unacceptable” practices? I do understand that what we take for granted in terms of child care like yelling at children or slapping them for misbehavior would be considered cruelty in certain other societies. I am in no way condoning such practices. But then as a society we are used to this sort of disciplining and it is therefore not strange if parents should adopt that for their children.

There is also this thing about the thin dividing line between the private and the public domains. I am surprised how these authorities were able to cross these boundaries entering into the family circle and make a judgment about the couple’s parenting skills. It also assumes a certain cultural superiority about what is right and what is not where child rearing is concerned.

I am now beginning to wonder if a person who lives in these countries has to live by their rules even within the house? I have heard about the rule of  children not being allowed to sleep on the same bed as the parents being followed in other countries too. Many Indian couples living abroad are  so  afraid about what might happen to their children if the authorities find out about this They may  not believe in it but adopt it –rather like having to wear the “abaya” or veil when moving around some of the middle eastern countries.

I am often surprised when I see the way children are brought up in western societies. They are carried around in baby carriers, prams, sleep on separate beds – all this leading to limited physical contact between the parent and the child. While I am not going to be judgmental about this, I can only say that though this lack of physical contact may make the child very independent which is probably a must for the western societies where they are being brought up it also runs the risk of  making them emotionally detached- they may not be able to  bond with their families the way that an Indian society may require!

Breastfeeding on demand is what doctors say about children during the first three months after which mothers are encouraged to follow a feeding schedule. However, as many mothers would agree, it is easier said that done. A child used to being breast fed on demand may protest when its demands are not being met.  It would be very exhausting for a mother to deal with a crying child. We mothers often give in feeding the child whenever it cries, throwing the feeding schedule to the winds! It is more likely that an Indian mother who is living alone in a foreign country without any social support and with another toddler to care for would be  finding it doubly difficult to follow this schedule. It is surprising that the Norwegian authorities have not been able to understand this simple fact and have instead added it to the list of misdemeanors cited against the mother.

Children are not state property. They belong to the parents until they are legally old enough to be on their own. However, this does not suggest in anyway that parents can treat them like their property using or abusing them. A parent who is unable to care for a child whatever be the reason needs to be counselled. If a parent is found “unfit” there are other family members who can be brought it and the issue dealt with in a different way. Placing a child in the care of a family which wants to earn money for the child’s upkeep is nothing but emotional deprivation of the child. We are not sure what criteria the state of Norway uses for selection of such couples or families for giving foster care. Do they receive some form of certificates I wonder?

Childcare is a difficult skill. Not all of us are perfect care givers as parents. And there is no perfect way to raise a child. It is often a society that feels culturally superior to others which tries to impose its child rearing practices among all its residents. Or it is a society that has so many depraved individuals living in it who do not adhere to what is culturally appropriate child care even within their own  social norms that an external government funded system has to be introduced to protect children from these individual. The problem arises when such societies impose it on other cultures refusing to see it from their point of view.

Is this what  “Child Protection” is all about? In Norway it probably is....!
( picture courtesy NDTV)

Comments

  1. Well said..! the scarce cultural knowledge seem to be the reason for this, same was the issue in banning Gita in Russia.. but dont we have embassy and human rights to help.. arent they meant to help!

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  2. Can we say this is an official but forcible abduction of two Indian children from their parents in Norway?Though allegedly for poor parenting skills,it betrays certain insensitivity to the cultural differences between Indian and Norwegians on what is right or wrong in bringing up children.The matter should have been dealt with more tactfully through the embassy.
    That said I have seen in malls in US or in public places,Indian children running and shouting to the utter disregard of the silent atmosphere and their parents turning a blind eye.Very rarely have I seen American children doing like that.Even if they do, a gentle admonition in a soft voice is enough to make the child quiet.Here the moms may have to scream to make the children obey. One especially a foreigner would be tempted to conclude that the upbringing of kids by Indian parents is not upto the mark.

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    1. @ Kp you have raised a very valid point about the behavior of Indian Children. I don't know why or how but Indian Children are noisier- I guess it is about about us as a culture - we are noisier and care less about how our behavior may be affecting others. So our children behave similarly. In an Indian context no one would notice it. But in a foreign setting where no one else behaves like this I guess it stands out. The point is that a person who sees this and tries to understand it without understanding the fact that our behaviour is an expression of our culture would definitely think that there is something wrong with us. And yes, sure well behaved children are a pleasure to be with so why don't we train them to be like the foreign children?

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  3. Well, I can't sleep alone and if I sleep in other room my parents know that I won't sleep. So, I sleep with my parents. I am 30. Western people eat with hands. Only few eat using cutlery, atleast thats what I have seen in US. Now, that means US parents are not fit to be parents...

    You are right about being sensitive to culture. Eating with hands is something Indians like and do. Who eats chappati with fork and knife?

    Childcare is indeed a difficult skill and we want to raise our kids as per our culture irrespective of where we live.

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  4. LOved it, thought provoking !
    I am not much in to it but i can say what i feel,feeding with bare hands is SIN for Norway guys it seems, This is quite absurd, people from different parts of country will have different approaches which can't be same at all places !
    This whole mess could have been avoided ! -Dee

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  5. Thank goodness , Blogger seems to accept my comments in your post!!!

    The Norwegian authorities have certainly gone overboard with their outlandish act. It is officially sanctioned and lawful kidnapping that has taken place. The only difference is the law is bad and myopic.
    My 18 year old daughter , when she is back from boarding sleeps on the same cot with me and her mother.
    I only hope that the Indian govt do not copy the Scandinavians.

    Human beings are influenced in their growth and personality by tactile elation they get from parents and near ones. To deprive a child of that vital aspect is serious deprivation,

    The Norwegians , instead of being impassioned and investigative about the parent child relationship in this case has done serious damage to the bond child has to have with its parents.

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  6. well I would not say that as each country has their own rules and regualtions. There was some sort of smoke that took place which resulted in the parents being reported. But then i do agree that the norway govt shud have taken into consideration the indian culture.

    Lets not put down the govt for the rules they follow it should be for all the citizens ..

    it is upto us also if we are migration to a different country then we should also learn their ways and know the rules and regulations.. it works both ways I guess.

    Bikram's

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  7. The topic is a relevant one, and you noted some points. Children are not state property till they become adults, I liked that info..

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  8. Meera,

    If it is these are the main reasons for their action then I think it is high handedness on the part of Norwegian authorities. Intervention is justified if parents are incapable of bringing up children due to physical, mental or financial reasons. Government should not dictate how to bring up children. The bonding between parents and children is a must. That is what is missing in western world and that is why so many old persons live in old age home as children are not keen to take care of them. They should first look into their own shortcomings. As far as wearing face covering clothes in middle east countries are concerned, it is a different issue. Don't our ladies wear short skirts in western countries?

    Take care

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  9. I really liked this post and the points that you've skilfully put forth. It's very well written and my thoughts coincide with yours on this issue.

    I am sharing this on my Facebook a/c for others to read as well. Keep writing on issues like this, I will come back to read more from you!

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    1. Thanks Swapna. Glad that you see my point on this.

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  10. Namaste:

    Western ideology, ethos and practices are in opposite contrast of those outside of this sphere. What is viewed as normal for communities and cultures outside the western world is view as barbaric, backward, and attached with pedophillic connotations. Hence the demonization and ostratization that result in the removal of children from their homes because their lifestyle is deemed inappropriate. This is not to say that inappropriateness does not occur outside of the western sphere it is just that everything is viewed through the european imperialist context which is designated superior and the "Othering" that occurs to those of us of non-european ethnicies (designated "inferior, lesser than") is applied to our practices, cultures and ethos. No other consideration is applied, socio-economic situation, cultural or otherwise. The preception is, as one is now outside of their native land, it is time for adaptation and assimulation, learning the law of the land for which you now dwell and behave accordingly, to do other wise as we now see in this story is to be penalized, ostrasized and made and example.

    Migrators to lands outside their own, should be mindful of the laws of the land they choose to designate home, because to live in ignorance of the laws and bylaws is to be penalized and ostrasized.

    Take care....
    Rhapsody

    http://twitter.com/rhapsodyphoenix
    http://www.shelfari.com/rhapsodyphoenix

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  11. I was also surprized by the way thiscase was presented. However, it is true that countries judge according to their own standards, though it is some times unfortunate. Thus, completely vegetarian parents may be seen as cruel and unfit because "they are refusing to give meat to the children".

    On the other hand, I know of women from Indian sub-continent may be kept at home forbidden to go out by their husbands, who proudly say that their wives follow the traditions! I wish they could also be jailed!

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