When Nawal El Hakim turned 14 she had every reason to believe that she would be living a care-free life in a loving family environment surrounded by her parents and siblings.
In the 2000s, Nawal’s parents moved to Sweden from then-war-torn Lebanon, in the hopes of a better life.
With their five children, it was a dream come true to be in a country with such a social safety net that supported large families.
However, things turned upside down over two years ago when Nawal and her four sisters — at the time aged six, five, four, and three — were taken away by social services.
It was a morning in June 2020, when the El Hakim sisters woke up and went to school and nursery as usual, they weren’t aware that several hours later, Nawal would be pulled aside in class to speak to two women from social services.
Two days before that, the sisters were questioned by the social services after one of Nawal’s younger sisters was “manipulated by a teacher” into saying that she was hit by her parents.
The six year old was approached by a teacher and asked why she was looking sad to which she replied that there was nothing wrong and that she was not sad at all.
The teacher then told her: “if you don’t say that your mother hits you, you will not be able to play with us.”
“At first, my little sister was scared to tell me. But after several attempts, she admitted it to me,” Nawal, who is now 16, told Anadolu.
When Nawal walked into the room, she saw her six-year-old sister was also with the social services officials.
Before she could sit down, the woman told her that they were going to be taken from their home. “And I was just like, what? And she, without any emotion, said: ‘You’re not going to live at home anymore’.”
Shaking in shock, Nawal managed to gather the courage to refuse as her little sister clutched her and started screaming.
“Don’t you have any shame in you? You come here to my school. I’m 14 years old. My sister is six, no one that we know is here,” she said, recounting the incident.
However, this was to no avail, as Nawal learned that she and her four sisters would be separated and placed into five different foster homes.
“I begged her not to separate us,” the 16-year-old said with tears in her eyes. “I felt hopeless. I felt that my whole life was destroyed. And I felt that I didn’t have anything to fight for anymore.”
A 1990 law, known as the Care of Young Persons Act (LVU), allows social service officials, assisted by police, to forcibly remove children from their family, either directly from their homes or from school without their guardians’ knowledge or even court approval.
Once taken, children are taken to either a secret investigation home, foster home, or home for care and custody.
Critics say social services enjoy impunity that has allowed them to act in violation of the LVU.
Lena Hellblom Sjogren, a Swedish forensic psychologist who has been appointed many times by courts to investigate alleged cases of child suffering, told Anadolu that those judging social care cases lack reliable tools for the work.
She said that many such cases, social workers have violated “their obligation, according to the Swedish fundamental law, to be impartial” and fact-oriented.
The Hakim sisters were forced on a bus and taken to a destination where they were pushed into five separate cars.
It was then that Nawal took her chance and convinced the driver to stop the car, saying she couldn’t breathe.
She felt like she had “nothing to lose” and decided to jump out and run, with her sisters’ screams still in her head.
Wanted by police
Nawal slept at bus stations for days before finding someone who agreed to help her.
At just 14 years old, she was officially wanted by police in a case that was heavily publicized in Swedish media.
“But please tell me why I was treated like a real criminal when my only crime was that I wanted to live with my mum, my dad, and with my sisters,” the 16-year-old asked.
She was lived in hiding in the country for about a month when a social services-appointed lawyer called her and told her that she only had a 1% chance of winning her case against the social services.
Sweden’s social services is a powerful institution and its Persons Act LVU/HVB-system is thought to turnover billions of dollars per year,
Hellblom Sjogren, who is also an author of the book “Barnets Ratt Till Familjeliv (The Child’s Right to Family Life),” argued that companies wrongfully earn money from this system.
“I think that it should be a last resort, and then you should recruit adults who love children, not adults who are in need of earning money,” she pointed out.
Escaping to Türkiye
For Nawal, it felt like there was no way out but to escape overseas. She started blogging in a cry for help, with many of her readers offering to support her and as a result she managed to escape to Türkiye.
“I remember when I reached a hotel in Istanbul and I got out from the car. I just felt I could breathe, and I could just walk freely. I felt every type of freedom.
She decided to fight her case in court against the social services from Türkiye and managed to convince authorities that she could represent herself without the lawyer, whom she did not trust.
Nawal eventually succeeded in convincing the judges and was finally allowed to return and live with her parents.
However, since the court issued no such verdict for her sisters, who remain in foster homes to this day.
After this “devastating” news, she told herself that she had no right to come back home and live a life without her sisters like nothing had happened.
Threatened and blackmailed
Nawal decided to return to Sweden and fight for her sisters and all those children who have being “wrongfully and cruelly” taken away by Swedish social services from their parents.
After coming back to Sweden, Nawal started a movement against the Nordic country’s social authorities, helping many families who found themselves in a similar predicament as she and her family, to speak out.
Tens of thousands of families have since reached out to Nawal for council in hope to be heard, prompting the 16-year-old to hold regular demonstrations across the country.
When she started her fight, the social services “threatened and blackmailed” her that unless she stops, she would not see her sisters.
Upon refusing, officials have prevented Nawal and her parents from seeing them or even hearing their voice for a year and a half.
To this day, the girls’ family does not where they are living.
Swedish law dictates that children should be placed first with a member of their extended family.
However, Sjogren says that this law is not being followed, similar to “many laws in Sweden” that are neglected.
“It looks very good on the paper, but in practice, it doesn’t. They don’t follow the law.”
Only a few months ago, Nawal was allowed to see her sisters in the presence of social workers, and according to her, they seemed extremely traumatized, which led her to believe that they were in a grave danger, just like many other children who “regularly face mental, physical, and sexual abuse” when placed in foster homes.
One of El Hakim sisters was secretly filmed by another child when she was locked up in a room by a foster parent.
“Let me go! Let me go, I’m saying let me go. Let me go, stop. I’m sorry, I’m not going to scream, let me go,” she was heard saying in the video, crying.
Trauma and suicide
Many children take their own lives in the country, which “refuses” to hear their voice, “harming them” by separating them forcefully from their own families, according to Nawal.
Hellblom Sjogren, argues that the Swedish system is unfair to child because the “child’s needs, the child’s human and legal rights are violated.”
Nawal vowed: “In the beginning, it was only about my sisters. But now that I know that this is happening to so many families and children, I will never stop.”
Swedish authorities think they can break up families, especially Muslim ones, by building cases that they face violence at home, said Nawal, adding that they had made progress over the past two-and-a-half years, because today “we are big” and “we are not scared to tell the truth.”
“Children are our next generation and by forcefully placing them to foster homes, traumatizing them, and giving them medications, you’re going to destroy the world and you’re going to destroy Sweden,” she said.
The 16 year old said she could not let more families suffer the same ordeal until Sweden “starts to treat everyone as they should.”
“I started this fight, and I’ll never end this fight until I see peace, whatever the cost, even if it is at cost of my own sisters.”
Source: Anadolu Agency