Cultural Differences – how much of a say should the state have

The recent news of the Norwegian authorities deciding to remove 2 children (the older about 3 years old and the other barely an year old) of Indian origin from their parents is pretty interesting – and I’m sure very agonizing for the parents and the relatives. The following have been sited as the grounds for the Norwegian authorities’ decision.

One, they felt that the children were overfed. They concluded that when a child was hand-fed, it was tantamount to force-feeding.

Two, they noted that the children displayed an emotional disconnect with their parents.

Three, the son Abhigyan apparently displayed erratic behavior at school.

Four, officials who came to investigate objected to Abhigyan and Aishwarya sleeping in the parental bed.

Five, the mother apparently slapped the son at one point – but she did not repeat that once she knew Norwegian law made violence against children illegal.

While points 2 and 3 are really hard to comment on (depends on what you call “erratic behavior” and how you describe “emotional disconnect”), points 1 and 4 are pretty much the norm in Indian families – with 5 being quite prevalent, though on the decline. Finger feeding and children sleeping in the parental bedroom and quite common and in fact not doing these is typically frowned upon in India. An rare slap to a child is actually viewed as a “release” by even the most forward thinking parent in India.

Enough has been said in the media about the cultural difference and I do not want to dwell on that – yes, Indians and Norwegians have different perceptions of what constitutes good child raising. Period!!!

Now, the interesting question to me is, to what extent can the state go to impose their view – on their own citizens and then on citizens of other countries. From what I read, the Norwegian authorities have held the children under their care for more than 8 months or so (long after the parents have offered to leave the country if the children were re-united) to the extent that the helpless parents have now turned to the highest Indian authority – The President, to impress upon her Norwegian counterpart. Surely, the Norwegian authorities should see reason when India’s highest citizen throws her weight behind the parents and presses for the children to be re-united with the parents.

I also wonder what the tone of the Indian President’s communique to her Norwegian counterpart was – was it on the lines of “You can separate all the Norwegian families that you want as per your views, but would request you to refrain from imposing your views of child raising on Indian parents” or was it on the lines of, “Many of the charges against the parents are pretty common in India – and we in fact believe that some of these, finger feeding and kids sleeping with parents in particular, are actually beneficial and promote better family bonding”

To me this seems a clear case of the state taking upon itself authority far beyond their calling. To what extent can a state go to penalize people who do not subscribe to the its views. Can a state that believes in vegetarianism separate kids when parents feed them chicken soup (or conversely penalize parents of vegetarian kids for denying the children well rounded nourishment) or can a state that believes in non-violence separate kids when parents allow them to watch Tom and Jerry.

A one-size-fits-all “best practices” for child raising just do not exist and a lot of what is good and what is not is largely determined by parental choice, cultural factors and other local customs. In these circumstances, for a state to remove infants from their parents and place them under separate foster homes seems pretty draconian.

Im not suggesting that the state turn a blind eye to Child Right issues, but how much supervision should the state provide and to what extent should the state be involved in ensuring responsible parenting?

NWritings

PS: A good read at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/india/9035776/India-and-Norway-in-diplomatic-spat-over-children-taken-into-care.html – the comments are actually more interesting, as usual

http://www.norwaynews.com/en/~view.php?72T8954QR74833u285Tie844PN3887Xj76IHo353K9L8 is interesting too.

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