UN slams Sweden for child rights failure

UN slams Sweden for child rights failure
Sweden continues to shirk United Nations-mandated obligations guaranteeing children the right to education, prompting the international body to call government officials to testify as to why many refugee children in hiding do not attend school in Sweden.

As a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child (CRC), Sweden must guarantee children a number of human rights to ensure they can “develop to their full potential”, including the right to primary education.

But the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has criticized Sweden several times for failing to provide education to all children living in Sweden, according to the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper.

At issue is the status of children in Sweden who have had their refugee status claims rejected and are due to be deported.

While the government examined the matter in a 2007 report, many child advocacy groups criticized the report for a lack of comprehensiveness.

The groups, which include Save the Children, the Swedish Church, and the Swedish Paediatric Society (Svenska barnläkarföreningen), are also upset with what they see as the government’s failure to prioritize the issue at the same time as children continue to suffer.

“Now the same question is up for the third time in front of the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child,” said Henry Ascher, chair of the paediatric association’s working group for refugee children, to DN.

“We paediatricians who deal with asylum seekers and children in hiding see what an enormous difference there is between children who go to school and those who live in dark apartments with curtains drawn together with parents who aren’t doing well.”

In a response to the latest inquiry from the UN, the Swedish government said it plans to review and update the 2007 report and on Wednesday, Karin Johansson, a state secretary under social affairs minister Göran Hägglund, will testify before the UN’s children’s committee.

While the previous report included a number of proposed changes to Swedish law, it failed to address the issue education access for “paperless” children, who often times go into hiding with their families to avoid being deported, or who have not applied for residence permits because their parents also reside in Sweden without proper permits.

While Sweden doesn’t prohibit “paperless” children from attending school or preschool, a lack of clear regulations usually result in individual teachers or principals deciding which children are accepted.

Another issue is that schools aren’t considered safe zones, which means children in hiding or their parents could be taken by police while on school grounds.

While police rarely take advantage of the situation, it can happen, according to Save the Children’s Sanna Vestin.

“Just the knowledge that police have the right to do it means that certain parents don’t dare let their children attend school,” she told the newspaper.

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