Prohibition of all corporal punishment in Sweden (1979)

Sweden was the first country in the world to prohibit all corporal punishment of children. In 1979 a provision was added to the Parenthood and Guardianship Code which now reads:

Children are entitled to care, security and a good upbringing. Children are to be treated with respect for their person and individuality and may not be subjected to corporal punishment or any other humiliating treatment."

The proposal, together with a draft Bill, came from a multi-disciplinary Children's Rights Commission, chaired by an eminent judge, which emphasised:

The primary purpose of the provision is to make it clear that beating children is not permitted. Secondly, the Commission wishes to create a basis for general information and education for parents as to the importance of giving children good care and as to one of the prime requirements of their care. The proposed provision should, in the long term, contribute towards reducing the number of cases of acts of physical violence on children."

It proposed a "recurrent general parent education programme". When the Bill went before Parliament it was passed by 259 votes to 6.

The Ministry of Justice led a very large-scale education campaign. A pamphlet distributed to every household with children emphasised that "the law now forbids all forms of physical punishment of children, including smacking etc, although it goes without saying that you can still snatch a child away from a hot stove or open window if there is a risk of its injuring itself".

The legal provision forms part of Sweden's family (civil) law. But its purpose is to emphasise beyond doubt that the criminal code on assault covers physical punishment, although trivial offences remain unpunished just as trivial assaults between adults are not prosecutable.

A detailed research review of the effects of Sweden's ban has been carried out by Professor Joan E Durrant, Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Family Studies at the University of Manitoba. See A Generation Without Smacking - The impact of Sweden's ban on physical punishment.

The following statement was made by Louise Sylwander (Sweden's first Children's Ombudsman, December 1993 - 2000):

The anti-spanking law has influenced Swedish Society

"The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which every European country has accepted, strengthens the position of children within the family and in society as a whole. Everyone who meets a child has the responsibility to treat the child with respect. Children are in a vulnerable situation in relation to adults, and therefore they must be guaranteed a safe childhood: a childhood without violence including physical chastisement.

"Physical punishment is not in accordance with the UN Child Convention. And the European Court of Human Rights recently unanimously found the physical punishment of a young English boy by his stepfather breached article 3 of the European Convention. It is very important, therefore, that society clearly underlines that children and young people have a right to an upbringing based on parental support and encouragement rather than chastisement.

"In Sweden, there has been a ban on subjecting children to spanking since 1979. It goes without saying that this ban has not ended all forms of violence to children in our country. But it is obvious that attitudes towards violence and the use of physical punishment have changed for the better and today there is strong public opinion in favour of the Swedish anti-spanking law.

"No more than 11 per cent of the adult population in Sweden are positively inclined to even minor forms of physical punishment. Recent studies by Statistics Sweden show that spanking has become less common in our society. Attitudes have changed substantially since 1965 when a similar study was done. Only two per cent of today's middle school pupils report being spanked every other week, and 78 per cent report that they have never been spanked. The change in the Swedish Parental Code prohibiting spanking of children has played an important role in this positive development.

"During the last two decades, reporting of child abuse and neglect has increased. There is no clear evidence which indicates a corresponding increase in actual cases of child abuse in Sweden. Everything points to other explanations such as better awareness and knowledge of children in vulnerable situations. As mentioned above, attitudes in society have also changed: people today are less willing to accept violence against children. Another reason is that the reporting obligations under the Social Welfare Act have been strengthened and many more groups of professionals are now obliged to report children at risk - so less cases of child abuse and neglect fail to come to the attention of the social welfare authorities.

"In other countries, for example the USA and Canada, the number of reports of child abuse and neglect have also increased. In Belgium, the numbers have increased by almost 70 per cent between 1986 and 1992.

"The State's obligation under the Convention on the Rights of the Child demands that all measures must be undertaken for the implementation of the rights recognised in the Convention. Legislation is only one of the measures, but it is an important statement from society that we are no longer accepting physical chastisement of children.

"When the Bill on the anti-spanking law was put forward a member of the Swedish Parliament said: "If we as parents cannot convince our children with words, then we shall never convince them with violence."


Further information

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