There’s an old saying that once you reach the top, you can only go down.
For the nation of Sweden, however, reaching the top was only the beginning.
Sweden has long been regarded as a model nation, whose policies and laws are at the cutting-edge of international thinking on children’s rights. Sweden was the first nation to completely ban corporal punishment, the first to make sex education a mandatory feature of its educational curriculum, and the first to offer working parents free child-care for all children between the ages of 1 and 12. Thus, it should come as no surprise that on June 29, 1990, Sweden became the ninth nation in the world - and the first industrialized Western country - to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
And apparently, such innovations were only the beginning.
The modern regime in Sweden enjoys broad discretionary authority over parents, and is presently engaged in what Swedish lawyer Ruby Harrold-Claesson has termed a “parental inquisition.” The inquisition is broad, affecting educational decisions, child-rearing practices, parental discipline, and even the removal of children from their homes. The state wields incredible power, guided solely by its own “insights” into the child’s “best interests.” Against such power, no child or family is safe.
Sex-ed: No exemptions… period
When it comes to schools teaching children about the birds and the bees, American parents are used to two familiar words: “opt out.” Even parents who do not take advantage of parental exemptions are aware of their availability.
Apparently, that option has become outdated in Sweden.
In March 2008, Sweden’s government sought to take its trend-setting policies on mandatory sex education to the next level by eliminating all exemptions for parents - including parents with religious and philosophical differences.1 According to the state, all students, irrespective of religious or cultural beliefs, should receive instruction in the same subjects, and parental “exemptions” were being used as a ploy to keep children in ignorance. “Our belief in a tolerant society,” state officials wrote in a local paper, “should never result in us covering our eyes when women are the victim of attacks or being denied their rights with the excuse that it is a part of their culture or religion.”2
According to the state, the changes were primarily aimed at Sweden’s large Muslim immigrant populations, many of whom claimed religious exemptions for sex-ed classes.3
Although the proposal prompted a national debate, particularly among the nation’s major newspapers, nearly all of them came down firmly in favor of the government’s position. According to one paper, “religion has its given place in people’s lives. But in school, religious convictions ought to be studied, rather than be in control.”4 Another paper opined that eliminating the parental exceptions would be a good thing because it would give individual students “more power to decide for themselves whether or not they want to attend lessons which their parents find objectionable.”5
No more “time outs”
The idea that parents are ultimately responsible for raising their children is a foreign concept in Sweden. According to the state Ministry of Education and Science, local communities believe that it is “the responsibility of society to satisfy the need for child care,” and to look out for the “best interests” of children.6 In fact, Sweden’s laws specifically require that all decisions affecting children must be made in accordance with “the best interests of the child.”7
Unfortunately, this “highly developed view of the child”8 often works to the detriment of the family as a whole, especially when it comes to child training and discipline. In 1979, Sweden passed a law banning parents from using “physical punishment or any other humiliating treatment” to train their children.9 According to the Nordic Committee on Human Rights, the Swedish courts have applied the ban broadly, criminalizing everything from slaps and spankings to “time outs” and sending children to their rooms.10
As a result, Swedish parents “negotiate” with their children11 instead of providing training and discipline. For the parents who choose to buck the trend and brave the risk of training their children, however, the likely outcome is criminal prosecution and punishment at the hands of the state.
Sweden’s “Parental Inquisition”
Sweden’s government places so much pressure on families to conform with its dictates that Ruby Harrold-Claesson, an international human rights lawyer and a citizen of Sweden, has gone so far as to call their actions a “parental inquisition.”12
“The prosecution of parents in Sweden has taken the form of an Inquisition where children accuse their parents of ill-treatment,” Harrold-Claesson wrote in 2000. Laws aimed at controlling parents have “resulted in serious interference in people’s family and private lives, and has damaged the relationship between parents and children - to the detriment of the family.”13
Harrold-Claesson traces the source of the problem to Sweden’s community view of child-rearing: “In Sweden, family as an institution, which socialises children and passes on values, is not taken seriously. The status of the Family has been usurped and instead the school system and the social institutions have been given monopoly over the children.”14
Because of her opposition to official state policy against parents, Harrold-Claesson represented Swedish parents in Swedish and international courts for years, until she was barred by the courts in 1996 because of her opposition.15 She continues to work as chairman of the Nordic Committee on Human Rights, where she continues to warn others about Sweden’s “cutting-edge” policies.
“There is therefore great deception in the Swedish system which displays extreme brutality towards the parents and children,” she wrote in 2005. Sweden’s child-policy “gives rise to much suffering, but this does not appear in the official reports about the Law. Instead, [it is] portrayed to be ‘in the best interest of the child.’ This is a very dangerous law and a law that is unsuitable in a civilized, democratic society…. It opens the door for arbitrary decisions, which have proven to be devastation for Swedish children and their families.”16
Article written for ParentalRights.org by Peter Kamakawiwoole, Jan. 26, 2009.
1. “Liberals call for mandatory sex ed,” The Local (Sweden) (March 6, 2008) <http://www.thelocal.se/10298/20080306/> (accessed January 17, 2009)
Nordic Committee on Human Rights Report When Parents Become the Victims -- Harrold Claesson's report cited in the article
What Has Government Done to Our Families? Allan Carlson, author of The Swedish Experiment in Family Politics, wrote this article posted at Austria's Mises Institute
Sweden Country Report The latest UNCRC report for Sweden (Official UN Document)