Sweden’s Children and Parent Code to prohibit all corporal punishment and other humiliating treatment of children
In 1979, Sweden became the first country in the world to explicitly prohibit all forms of corporal punishment and other humiliating treatment of children. This pioneering reform is considered to have achieved full prohibition in all settings, including the home, and has fostered a profound change of attitude across Swedish society in relation to violence against children. One key success factor has been the abolition of any legal justification for physical discipline of any kind.
- In 1979, the Swedish Children and Parent Code was amended to provide protection for children from corporal punishment. The amendment reflects a transformation which began early in the 20th century regarding the attitudes towards the use of corporal punishment against children within Swedish society.
- A clear prohibition of corporal punishment in the Children and Parent Code aimed to provide valuable pedagogical support to convince everybody that no form of violence is necessary in the upbringing of children.
- No penalties are associated with the law (unless the violence is considered assault, in which case laws against assault apply, just as they apply to adults), which was intended to change the public perception of corporal punishment in the home and as a guide for parents.
The Children and Parent Code, Chapter 6, Section 1, 1979 (sometimes referred to as Parenthood and Guardianship Code) states that “Children are entitled to care, security and a good upbringing. They shall be treated with respect for their person and their distinctive character and may not be subjected to corporal punishment or any other humiliating treatment”. http://ceflonline.net/wp-content/uploads/Sweden-Parental-Responsibilities.pdf
- Sweden’s Penal code: Corporal punishment was prohibited in gymnasiums (elite secondary schools) in 1918, in state-run secondary schools in 1928, and in all schools, including elementary schools, in 1958.
- Article 13 of the Act Prohibiting Discrimination and Other Degrading Treatment of Children and School Students 2006 protects students from all degrading treatment by staff members and management.
- The Education Act 2010 makes no provision for corporal punishment in Chapter 5 (safety and discipline), and Chapter 6 protects children in school from degrading, abusive and offensive treatment by staff.
- Article 5 of the Instrument of Government 2012 – one of four laws that together make up the Constitution – states: “Everyone shall be protected against corporal punishment…”
- Care of Young Persons Act (1990)
- Social Services Act
- Health and Medical Service Act 1982
- Education Act (SFS 2010:800)
It is now over 3 decades since Sweden became the first country in the world to explicitly prohibit all forms of corporal punishment and other humiliating treatment of children. This pioneering reform is considered to have achieved full prohibition in all settings, including the home. It has fostered a profound change of attitude across Swedish society in relation to violence against children, gaining a very high level of awareness and support, including from children. The ban could also be considered to have changed long-term public perceptions about violence against children – as a symbol of recognition of a new social norm.
Sweden is also working with other governments to promote universal prohibition of all violent punishment of children. The Swedish Government has also been an important change agent, for instance by actively taking part in the Universal Periodic Reviews of many UN Member States, questioning and encouraging governments regarding their progress towards banning corporal punishment. Following Sweden’s example 44 states have introduced legal prohibitions on corporal punishment in the home while 122 states have banned violent forms of discipline in schools. It is hoped that more countries join the example, especially on corporal punishment and humiliating in the home.
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Sustainable use of natural resources
- The ban on corporal punishment and other humiliating treatment is enshrined in national legislation.
- Clear commitments exist from all political parties to protect children from corporal punishment and to strengthen their rights.
- The resources needed are part of different budgets such as for social services, the National Board of Health and Welfare, and schools.
- However, to improve and address new challenges more resources are needed.
Equity and poverty eradication
- Sweden is a party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN-CRC) and is now discussing the ratification of its 3rd Optional Protocol as well as the full transposition of the UN-CRC into Swedish law.
- The ban addresses every child irrespective of gender, origin, or religion.
- The approach is human rights based and recognises the best interests of the child.
- The measures guarantee support for any child residing in Sweden.
- The law provides information for children, parents, officials and people working with children as well as for immigrants.
- Capacity building, training programmes and guidelines for professionals are provided and shall be strengthened.
- The Social services and the Ombudsperson for Children are responsible for monitoring and reporting.
Public participation, access to information and justice
- Children and youth participate by voicing their concerns to the Ombudsperson and in national surveys.
- The Ombudsperson, social services and NGOs work together to protect every child from corporal punishment and humiliation.
- Additional services are available from a Children’s Helpline provided by BRIS (Children’s Rights in Society) and on-call social services.
Good governance and human security
- The Ombudsperson for children and Social Services are responsible for monitoring and evaluation.
- Child health is documented through school health centres.
- There is a strong commitment by all parliamentarians to ensure non-violent upbringing.
Integration and interrelationship
- All responsible bodies work together.
- Local social services and the Ombudsperson exchange information.
- Strong relationships exist between health and educational services.
- A whole generation has grown up largely without corporal punishment giving children freedom to exercise their rights.
Common but differentiated responsibilities
- The law is a logical consequence of legal measures over decades to prohibit violence against for example wives, servants etc.
- Very innovative, taking into consideration that the measure was implemented before the UN-CRC came into force.
- Replicable, especially in countries where a welfare-system exists.
- 44 countries have already fully prohibited the corporal punishment of children in all settings and another 45 are committed to the ban.
- The added value of this nomination is however slightly more limited than others because international organisations have been promoting a corporal punishment ban for a long time.
In 1958, Sweden prohibited corporal punishment in all schools and institutions. At this same time, a parent’s right to chastise their child also underwent several reforms. In 1957, the section permitting parents to use force in reprimanding their children was completely removed from the Penal Code. However, the Children and Parent Code still contained a paragraph permitting this practice. This situation allowed parents to use mild forms of physical discipline that would not constitute assault under the Penal Code.
The inconsistency between these two laws was eliminated in 1966, when the parental right to use corporal punishment was removed from the Children and Parent Code. Still, this did not constitute a total ban, and the law remained somewhat unclear. As parental violence continued, debates within society shifted towards the rights of the child. The government set up a parliamentary committee to examine how to ensure the protection of children from violence, and in 1979 the Parliament voted almost unanimously across all parties to an amendment to the Children and Parent Code to explicitly ban all forms of physical punishment or emotional abuse.
The prohibition is not accompanied by penal sanctions. Violence against children – whether by parents or caregivers – that meets the legal criteria of assault is subject to Chapter 3, section 5 of the Penal Code, although milder forms of physical or mental violence are not included under any special provision. The intent behind this change was to provide children with the same protection from assault that adults receive and to clarify the grounds for criminal prosecution of parents who abused their children. Every person working with children is obliged to report any suspicions to the police or social services.
The ban was mainly driven from a public health perspective, and aimed to protect children from all forms of violence, as it endangers the child’s personal development. However, it did so without criminalising parents, and instead sought to change attitudes. A clear prohibition of corporal punishment in the Children and Parent Code aimed to provide valuable pedagogical support to convince everybody that no form of violence is necessary in the upbringing of children. From the government’s perspective, it is viewed as the principal starting point of the legislation to provide families with the necessary support in order to protect children from suffering abuse and neglect.
In conjunction with the amendment in 1979, an extensive publicity campaign was launched by the Ministry of Justice, supported by children’s and antenatal clinics as well as civil society. Further, resources for national surveys were put in place to measure the impact, and two long-term studies on violence against children were conducted.
In 1995, the Office of the Ombudsperson for Children in Sweden was established by the government, with the aim of monitoring and promoting the implementation of the UN Convention on the Right of the Child. The Ombudsperson holds regular dialogues with children, especially those in vulnerable situations, to obtain knowledge of their conditions and their opinions, and report back to the government once a year.
The Social Services have a clear responsibility to protect children who are suffering neglect or abuse or who are at risk of harm. The National Board of Health and Welfare has recently been mandated to intensify the efforts of the health care and medical services in the event of suspicions that children and young people are, or run the risk of, being neglected or abused. National guidance for staff in health care, medical and social services will be produced to improve the means for detecting vulnerability to violence. As the most serious risk factor for child abuse is violence between the adults in the home, or due to influence of alcohol or drugs, a national co-ordinator to combat violence in close relationships has recently been appointed.
Barnahus (Children’s houses) are child friendly, interdisciplinary centres, situated within Children’s Services, whereby different professionals work under one roof in the rigorous investigation of child abuse. These are partnerships between the police, state prosecutors, health and social services and the houses are designed to maximise the child’s comfort throughout the process. Children also access treatment services for themselves and their families.
Every school has a school health centre with a team composed of social workers, nurses and physicians specialised in primary care, paediatrics or child psychiatry. They are guided by national guidelines (National Board of Health and Welfare, 2004) and the Education Act (SFS 2010:800). Nearly all children participate in the services programmes, and their health is documented.
All municipalities have on-call social services to support children who are victimised. However, there have been complaints from children that some local social authorities do not take them seriously.
Immigrants make up to 15% of the Swedish population. Newly arrived families are informed about the prohibition against corporal punishment, and brochures in different languages are available. Measures like language classes are in place to integrate children into the society.
All forms of violence have to be reported to the police and social services and are gathered in the National Crimes Statistics.
Additional measures like a well-functioning welfare system and the Swedish family policy that comprises child and family benefits, parental insurance, as well as day-care, support parents and thus support the positive outcome of the law.
It is widely acknowledged that the prohibition has been tremendously successful not only in changing attitudes towards protecting children from corporal punishment, but also in strengthening their rights and how people perceive children’s rights to integrity and self-determination. This is very much related to the fact that the amendment in the Children and Parent Code does not criminalise parents, but supports them in finding other non-violent parenting strategies.
The increase in reported cases of abuse of children aged 0-6 to the police and social services is strongly related to changes in reporting behaviour due to greater awareness, but also because of mandatory reporting for people working with children. However, evidence shows the rise is to an extent related to the upbringing methods of families who have recently arrived in Sweden from societies where corporal punishment is an acceptable method of discipline.
At the same time prosecution has not increased. This is mostly related to well-functioning social services that investigate all allegations of child maltreatment and provide a range of supportive and preventive measures. Still, it is extremely difficult to obtain convictions for crimes committed within the home.
Clear evidence exists that the most grave, even deadly, violence against children has decreased over a long period, showing a continuing decline between the 1990s and the 2000s. Concern that youth crime has increased since the ban is not reflected in official statistics, and research shows a decrease since the mid-1990s. There have been no remarkable changes over the last ten years in parents’ attitudes towards corporal punishment, nor on reports from children that such punishments have occurred.
As far as public awareness is concerned, it is self-evident for the majority of Swedish people that children should not be subject to corporal punishment as a mechanism of child-rearing. A whole generation has grown up with the ban, and for the majority a prohibition on corporal punishment is unquestionable.
All States Parties to the UN Convention on the Right of the Child (UN-CRC) have the obligation to prohibit and eliminate all physical violence against children in all settings including the home. This has also been reinforced by the General Comment Number 8 on the child’s right to protection from corporal punishment. The policy offers an excellent example for other countries in their attempt to implement the UN-CRC. Based on the Swedish experience, in 2008 the Council of Europe launched its campaign for the abolition of corporal punishment in all settings in its 47 member states.
The inter-governmental South Asia Initiative to End Violence Against Children has also followed the Swedish model to run an “Equal Protection for Children” campaign.
Although the introduction of such a ban depends on countries’ legal traditions, it would send a strong signal to have the ban contained outside the criminal code, and implemented with a proactive and educational approach. Such a ban must, however, be very clear, taking away legal defences that allow parents and caregivers to use reasonable chastisement / lawful correction to discipline their children.
Sweden's Children and Parent Code to prohibit all corporal punishment and other humiliating treatment of children.
Courtesy of the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, Sweden.