Norway Child Welfare Service recommends uncle to get custody of children

Norway Child Welfare Service recommends uncle to get custody of children
Stavanger, Norway:  The Norwegian Child Welfare Service has said that it will recommend that the uncle should take over the care of the two Indian children, who were put away in foster care in May 2011. Three-year-old Abhigyan and one-year-old Aishwarya may be able to return to India with their paternal uncle Dr Arunabhas Bhattacharya who is a dentist in Asansol.

27-year-old Arunabhas is unmarried so far but could soon be tying the knot.

A court in Stavanger, Norway, will hear the case on April 17. The Child welfare Service has said that the children can leave immediately for India after the court gives permission for the children to be removed from the foster home.

The Ministry of External Affairs has been closely involved in this case. Norwegian authorities had earlier refused to give the children to anyone in the family. The parents had suggested they consider the paternal uncle and the maternal grandparents as guardians. But the Child Welfare Service had refused to recommend them as possible guardians to the courts. They said the children would stay in a foster home till the age of 18 and would meet their parents only three times a year for a limited number of hours.

The case was finally reopened when the Indian government intervened in December 2011. India had sent a special envoy in February 2012 to negotiate with Norwegian authorities and convince them to let the children go back to India to their extended family. The Child Welfare Service in Norway felt that the children were suffering from serious problems at home because their primary caretakers especially the mother, Sagarika Bhattacharya, were not being able to look after them well.

The older child Abhigyan had developed a condition called "attachment disorder" supposedly in very early months of his life. Abhigyan had shown bouts of violence, a symptom of this disorder'; he had been banging his head. He also would not play with other children and would reject toys.

The Child Welfare Service had earlier suggested that they would be willing to give the custody of the children to the father, Anurup Bhattacharya, were he to separate from the mother, a suggestion both the parents had rejected at that time. The CWS assessed the mother as incapable of looking after the children as she was depressed, something Sagarika Bhattacharya, has vehemently denied so far.

The uncle, who has been meeting the children, said Abhigyan's condition has improved under the care of many experts. The children's uncle has also been meeting experts and trying to understand how to deal with this condition. The CWS was put under pressure by the Indian government to consider someone from the extended family as possible guardians of the children. After three months of evaluating the situation and training the uncle, in the end of February, the CWS had agreed to let the uncle take custody of the children. The matter was resolved in February 2012, during the presence of India's Special envoy Madhusudan Ganapathi. The CWS had agreed that it would recommend to the court that the uncle could take the custody of the children. A court date was fixed for March 23 this year.

However, just four days before the court hearing, a major dispute in the family led to a series of bizarre incidents. Anurup Bhattacharya spoke to the media saying his wife Sagarika had been violent with him and they were going to separate. The Ministry of External Affairs told the media that the uncle had refused to take the children and that the father thought it was better for the children to stay in Norway. These claims were partially denied by the family later, who said their legal stated position had never changed and that they still wanted the uncle to take custody. However, the CWS said it was not going to be able to recommend the uncle anymore, as there seemed to be a risk that the family was in a major dispute over the children. The court hearing was then cancelled.

The dispute between the parents was mainly over the agreement that they were supposed to sign and present to the court. This was to be a formal understanding between the uncle, the father and the mother that they agreed to the solution of the uncle taking custody. However there was a line in the agreement which said "even if we as the parents choose not to live together, separate or divorce, this agreement will not be challenged by us or our relatives before any court or before any authority or institution."

The mother did not want to sign the agreement unless this line was removed. This created panic as the CWS got suspicious that the mother will try to get the children back once they returned to India, something that they had insisted right from the start would not be good for the children. This line has now been removed from the agreement. India has made it clear to Norway that this is not something they could give legal guarantees for, as only an Indian court could take such a decision.

The next court hearing will now be on April 17. If all goes well this time, the CWS will recommend the uncle as the best person to take over as the children's primary caregiver. The court will then, in all likelihood, also give permission for the children to be taken out of the foster home. The CWS authorities said in Stavanger on Thursday that the children should be able to leave for India right after that, with the uncle. The uncle's visa is expiring in the end of April. The children's visas have already expired and they have been allowed to stay on in Norway as the circumstances are being considered as exceptional.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had spoken about the children to the Norwegian PM in Seoul on March 26 on the sidelines of the nuclear summit saying, "India places much emphasis on strong family values."

Story First Published: March 29, 2012 21:21 IST

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