In this essay, Cristina Nicoli, an Australian of Romanian origin, traces Norway’s notorious child confiscation practices to historical instances of state-sponsored child removal. A grotesque picture emerges of brutal episodes of forced child removal over the last century all over the Western world, and its colonies, from Europe to Latin America to Australia, whether in the name of racial cleansing, or educating, ‘civilising’, integrating, or politically indoctrinating children. A version of this article was published on 11 November 2017 in the Sunday Guardian with the title ‘Norway’s Barnevernet and its parallels in human history’ as part of our ongoing weekly series with them called ‘Global Child Rights And Wrongs’.
Growing up in the Australia, I learnt
about its young past. I discovered its
dark aspects such as the “Stolen
Generation” of part-Aboriginal
children, which occurred throughout
most of the 20th century. This
knowledge sparked a nerve when I
first heard of Norway’s Child
Protection Service: Barnevernet.
Like most Romanians around the
world, I saw news of a young
Romanian/Norwegian family, the
Bodnarius, who were caught up in a
surreal drama in Norway. Their five
children, including a three-month-old
suckling infant, had been removed.
There were various reasons given for the separation of the Bodnariu family, such as “Christian radicalism and
indoctrination”. The family were practicing Romanian Pentecostal Christians, a religious minority in Norway.
None of the reasons given by Barnevernet justified the treatment of the family. One would think the immediate
removal was a result of neglect, abuse, violence, or an unsafe environment, such as drugs or alcohol. However, not
only did no such factors exist in this family, even Barnevernet made no such allegation.
The ease with which Barnevernet swooped in was also shocking. There was no forewarning, no court proceeding, no
thorough investigation or assistance given to the family prior to the taking of the children. The entourage of police,
staff and resources used to collect the children was heavy-handed and caused immediate and long-term trauma to the
The silence and bureaucratic jungle which the parents faced in order to regain their children proved to be a living
nightmare. It soon became evident that this family was being mindlessly destroyed.
Romanians around the world protested, taking to the streets in thousands. After months of demonstrations, the
Bodnariu family was reunited, but the episode revealed, once again, the systemic dysfunction in Norway’s child
It begs the question: is this an acceptable trait for the most developed nation in the world?
It was an abuse of power and it was impossible for me to ignore the similarities between Norway’s Barnevernet and
Australia’s own Stolen Generation.
Australia was ‘discovered’ in 1770, and soon after was declared ‘Terra Nullius’, which means uninhabited or ‘no
one’s land’. Captain James Cook took possession of the entire east coast, in the name of King George III. The boats
moored into harbour and slowly the people began inhabiting the coast.
However, this ignorant claim led to
multiple levels of abuse by the
Europeans. They completely
overlooked an established population
with culture, beliefs, traditions,
languages, law system and well-
functioning family structures; they
were the Aboriginal people.
Tragically, the ‘integration’ of
Europeans meant oppression with
violence and forced labour towards
the indigenous population.
One other such crime, and yet not the
least, was the rape of many women.
When they gave birth, the Europeans decided due to the part breed, that the children should receive some form
of education, and thus began the ‘Stolen Generation’.
Children were taken out of the arms of their mothers, sent interstate or at a great distance from their family, and kept
in ‘mission camps’ where the education was actually ‘re-education’. Most of these children never saw their families
The children cried and screamed but were met with extreme force. Their wild outbursts were not viewed as trauma,
but rather the part that was ‘Aboriginal’. This happened legally between 1910 to 1970.
Despite the different geography, nationality or belief system; no matter what Norway wants to call it, their child
welfare system is fundamentally similar to the one deployed in Australia and, technically, Norway is creating a Stolen
Generation right now.
Child Protection Services (CPS) claim to be guided by ‘the best interests of the child’, however it is a guise for
inferior standards for assessing families. Amongst other judgements, CPS tends to profile large or impoverished
families as a risk.
While the Bodnariu family were being victimised in Norway, I considered my own family history. My parents
married young, and had 6 daughters when they fled communist Romania for Australia. They struggled as immigrants,
and as the family grew to 11 children, there were times of poverty. Despite all of that, my parents managed to raise us
into caring, socially active and aware people, that are responsible and grounded.
I shudder at the thought that Barnevernet could have easily targeted my family had they existed during my childhood.
Looking back, I delight in the fact that my parents provided a safe environment for all of us children to prosper, and
CPS would have made a huge mistake had they intervened.
To be fair, every continent has some
history of abuse towards children.
Spain abducted up to 300,000
children during the Spanish Civil
War and Francoist Spain during
1944-1954 and these are known as
the ‘Lost Children of Francoism’.
Argentina stole children from parents
fighting the regime during 1976-1983
and unfortunately, up to 30,000 were
killed. Part of the Generalplan Ost
(GPO), Germany took Aryan-looking
children from around Europe, an
estimated 400,000 during 1939-1944,
and moved them to Germany for
‘Germanization’; a form of
indoctrination into becoming
culturally German. ‘Eugenics-Forced Sterilisation’ occurred during 1934-1975 in Sweden, where approximately
21,000 people were either forced or coerced into sterilization. Since the 1850’s, and well into the 20th century, Swiss
children were taken from their parents to work on farms and the era is known as ‘Contract Children’ between 1850-
The list goes on, and while these events are now in the past, they are stains that should not be ignored because without
genuine reflection, history can repeat itself. A society that can look back and acknowledge ancestral mistakes takes
the first step towards proper healing.
In February 2008, the then Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, publicly apologised to the Stolen
Generation. But the emotional distress of lost families, lost culture, lost memories and lost choice can never be
replaced or compensated. Unfortunately, the Aboriginal people are now considered to be a ‘Lost Generation’.
Another form of child removal in Australia was ‘Forced Adoptions’. This was legal from the 1950s to the
1970s. Young mothers from poor families were targeted. In 2013, the first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard,
officially apologised. She started her apology with ‘Today, this Parliament, on behalf of the Australian people, takes
responsibility and apologises for the policies and practices that forced the separation of mothers from their babies
which created a lifelong legacy of pain and suffering.’
The Opposition Leader at the time, Tony Abbott, added his own views on the issue, claiming ‘I cannot imagine a grief
greater than that of a parent and a child parted from each other… This is a tragedy for them and for our nation and we
must atone for it.’
This gives me hope that while a nation’s history may be dark, a future government can see the devastation and
apologise. If a ‘less’ developed nation like Australia can recognise its shame, could Norway one day be as bold?
This is why I am committed to the cause of exposing the unjust confiscation of children from their families by CPS
authorities. Because I would like to see a Norwegian government apologise, on behalf of itself and the nation, for the
inhumane practices of today. My journey protesting CPS atrocities began with the Bodnariu family, but it did not end
there. For me, it was just the beginning.
Cristina Nicoli is a first generation Australian of Romanian descent. She is a Feedback Officer with the Australian Red Cross Blood Service and is active in the worldwide resistance against unjust confiscation of children by child protection agencies.