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Legal Considerations for Moving Abroad

It's known but rarely thought of that the laws in other countries will be different from those of your home country. Much to the dismay of immigrants the world over, they arrive and live in the new country for long periods of time only to find out something that was common in their own culture will get them arrested, their children taken away or worse in their new country. An article last year spawned a significant debate among the immigrant and expat communities that highlights just how drastic some of the legal differences can be.

The article is told from the perspective of two Indian parents who had their children taken away from them while they were living in Norway. In the article the parents mention that they were taken because the children were being hand fed and slept in the parent's bed. While I attempt to make no determination of their guilt or innocence, this highlighted a very real threat faced by individuals and parents who move abroad.


In this particular instance, let's first discuss the law in Norway. Under the Children Act: Chapter 5 Parental responsibility and where the child shall live permanently. Section 30 Meaning of parental responsibility. The child is entitled to care and consideration from those who have parental responsibility. These persons have the right and the duty to make decisions for the child in personal matters within the limits set by sections 31 and 33. Parental responsibility shall be exercised on the basis of the child's interests and needs.

Those who have parental responsibility are under obligation to bring up and maintain the child properly. They shall ensure that the child receives an education according to his or her ability and aptitude.

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 upbringing of the child. Use of violence and frightening or annoying behavior or other inconsiderate conduct toward the child is prohibited.

Regarding the right to make decisions on behalf of the child in financial matters, the provisions of Act No. 3 of 22 April 1927 on Guardianship shall apply.

And further, this passage comes directly from a brochure provided by the Welfare Association: "Parental responsibility involves an obligation to care for the child. Parents must give their children love, safety and attention, care. Child care also involves the important task of stimulating and social contact. Parents are prohibited by law from using any form of violence (including light smacks and slaps) in connection with upbringing. Nor shall children be subjected to frightening or annoying behaviour or other inconsiderate conduct."

Both apply to this case. If you consider the details about there being absolutely no harm to the child physically or mentally, it is possible someone could have legitimately felt that the children were in danger. As we all know too well that some individuals are very easily offended and overreact even in safe environments all because of their own misunderstanding.

The article mentions that the welfare association was calling the feeding of the children by hand "force feeding." I think this throws up a red flag on both sides of the argument. Since neither of the children in the pictures appears to be morbidly obese or even just obese for that matter, it stands to reason that this scenario is likely being overplayed. Yes, parents can force-feed children but the reality is that doesn't mean the child will eat it, swallow it, or keep it down. There were no eating disorders mentioned in any of the online articles revolving around this story. Children are notoriously picky when it comes to food and it's more likely that maybe the child didn't like a food, mom made him eat it anyway for the health benefits and someone wasn't happy that she did it and turned them in. I think most of us have had similar experiences with foods like broccoli or spinach and mom insisted we eat it no matter how bad it tasted to us.

Feeding with the hands would be an absurd reason to remove children from a home from a legal standpoint and there is no indication in Norway law that says it is illegal to feed children in this manner. After all, you don't need a spoon for French fries or other finger foods and playing airplane can be quite an effective technique to lure a picky eater into eating.

Co-sleeping has long been controversial in many countries. Yes, it has the potential to be dangerous, but it is also scientifically proven to benefit babies as well. So this keeps most countries from banning the practice. Not to mention many cultures still practice this as a means of survival. Not every culture in the world has standard indoor heating during the winter months and body heat is crucial to life during harsh months. Co-sleeping is also not mentioned in Norway law as being considered detrimental to children. In my research I was unable to find any reference to other cases of children being removed from the home for co-sleeping

In Indian culture, both of these practices are common, every day practices. Children sleep with their parents well into their teen years due to the limited space, comfort it provides the child, cultural and for many other reasons. So it would not been out of character for these parents to feed their child with the hands or allow them to sleep in the same room. These same behaviors, though not as common, occur in most of the countries in the world -- including the U.S. and UK. What child hasn't had a nightmare and ran from their own room to mom and dads when they can?

Regardless of what is happening to this specific couple, there are other immigrants facing the same dilemmas. There is no excuse for not knowing the law, and I doubt any country includes a disclaimer for ignorance of the law. It is important to research and understand how moving to a new country will require changes in your normal behavior. This includes downloading torrents; swatting babies on their diaper, making children stand in the corner, slapping an unruly suitor and more. No one wants to land themselves in jail abroad.