Sweden urged to hold parents who smack children to account

Sweden urged to hold parents who smack children to account
File photo of an adult and a child. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT
Sweden was the first country in the world to ban the corporal punishment of children. But its legislation does not go far enough, say senior officials, calling on the government to tighten the laws.

All forms of physical punishment of children have been outlawed since 1979 in Sweden. But in reality parents who do use physical punishment often escape serious punishment in court, argue Anna Karin Hildingson Boqvist, interim Ombudsman for Children, and Anita Wickström, who led an inquiry on children's rights, in a new opinion piece in newspaper Dagens Nyheter on Thursday.

Violence against children is punished according to Sweden's penal code and according to the same rules as assault of adults in Sweden, which state that it has to lead to bodily harm or cause pain.

But in effect, parents who slap or beat their children often walk free, they write in the opinion piece in Dagens Nyheter, published to coincide with a high-profile summit in Sweden on children’s rights.

“Violence against children does not always cause visible injuries, and in these cases – especially in the absence of witnesses – the child’s ability to describe pain becomes crucial to whether or not it can be considered an assault and criminal offence,” they write.

“In practice the law demands that children be able to describe pain in the same way as adults.”

They note that the legislation has been tightened somewhat in recent years, but list a number of cases – including recent ones – where the courts only considered the act of violence minor.

One such case involved an eight-year-old girl whose parent hit her legs with a belt.

“The court found that the abuse consisted of single strokes that gave rise to short and mild pain. Even though the abuse was aimed at a small child in the common home, the Supreme Court found that the circumstances were such that the crime was to be considered minor,” they write.

In the opinion piece they urge the government to introduce a new rules on child assault in the penal code where “the violence is not require to have caused pain. It should focus on violence exercised by parents or caregivers.”

Sweden’s centre-left coalition government is already looking into incorporating the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into Swedish legislation, with an aim for it to come into force by the year 2020.