Dramatic rise in reports of child abuse

The number of cases of child abuse reported to the police has increased dramatically over the past year, new statistics from the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brå) show.

1,738 cases of the abuse of children under six-years-of-age were reported to the police between January to November 2008, a 24 percent increase on the corresponding period of last year, according to a report in the newspaper Dagens Nyheter.

According to Felipe Estrada at Brå the figures do not however indicate that child abuse is on the rise in Sweden but do indicate that there is greater transparency.

“More cases are reported today than previously.”

Astrid Lindgren’s Children’s Hospital in Solna, outside of Stockholm, is working to develop concrete guidelines to help staff and ensure that more cases of child abuse are detected.

Around 150 children per day are admitted to the accident and emergency ward at the hospital and suspicions of child abuse are an everyday occurrence.

“This is often very complicated. The children are too small to tell and their parents don’t tell the truth,” said Anna-Carin Magnussen of the Mio group which works with the issue at the hospital to Dagens Nyheter.

Björn Tingberg at the hospital would like to see a more active approach.

“Staff traditionally trust the parents description of what has happened. They are the voice of their children and make it very hard to discover cases of abuse. There is also a significant fear, we are incredibly reticent and report all too seldom.”

The Mio group is currently working with an information project entitled “shaken baby” – a syndrome which has attracted a great deal of attention in recent years.

Tingberg observes such abuse is often a case of ignorance or frustration among parents who don’t realise how little is needed to seriously injure their baby.

Despite the increase in reports of child abuse, death remains a very rare occurrence in Sweden, with seven cases per year, and is almost never connected to a history of abuse.

“It is often in cases where parents commit suicide and at the same time take their children with them, there is often a conflict between the parents or a mental illness,” according to the criminologist Mikael Rying.