The Effects of the Swedish Anti-smacking Law. A Consultation Paper

The Nordic Committee for Human Rights


For the protection of Family Rights in the Nordic countries






The following is a consultation paper that was sent to Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, Ireland in February 2000. A similar paper was sent to the British government in 1999. This paper is based on my dissertation in Penal Law "The Anti-Smacking Law. Studies of Swedish Case Law on Child Smacking" (Antiagalagen.
Studier i svensk rättspraxis beträffande barnaga), GothenburgUniversity, 1994.

Please note that smacking - equated to child abuse - is one of the excuses that the social services use to remove children from their parents and place them in the ever expanding foster home-industry.
Since this paper was written I have collected several verdicts against parents in Sweden who have smacked their children. The paper has not been updated to include cases after 1998. 

Ruby Harrold-Claesson




Ms Justice Mary Laffoy,

High Court.

Four Courts,


Dublin 7









This paper was produced in anticipation of the Irish Government's consultation paper on the discipline of children by their parents.


Summary of main points


• The Swedish law on the abolition of the physical punishment of children has resulted in hundreds of normal parents being harassed by the police and social authorities, prosecuted, sentenced and criminalised, because they have smacked their children for bad behaviour.


• The claim made by EPOCH (End Physical Punishment of Children) that only one Swedish parent has been prosecuted for smacking a child since 1979 is far from the truth. In reality, there have been hundreds of cases, but they are difficult to trace because they appear alongside cases of assault and battery.


• While having the appearance of being altruistic and humanitarian, the 1979 law has led to unwarranted interference in private and family life, and has caused serious damage to the relationship between parents and their children, to the detriment of the family.


• Before the Bill abolishing the physical punishment of children was presented to the Swedish Parliament, several leading lawyers expressed strong misgivings. Their fears that the law would lead to prosecutions of parents who employed mild physical sanctions, while doing nothing to reduce the number of cases of genuine child abuse, have materialised.


• Parents belonging to ethnic minorities and parents with strong religious convictions, in particular, have been victimised under the 1979 law.


• The social authorities and the courts enforce the law concerning the child's right not to be subjected to physical punishment, irrespective of what the child has done. Many Swedish parents are therefore afraid of their children and dare not correct them for fear of being reported to the police, indicted and fined or sent to prison.


• The law against physical punishment does more damage to children than a smack from a mother or father. When the authorities intervene in the life of a well-functioning family, its life is destroyed. There is nothing that can mend the resulting hurt, pain and bitterness, and the children are the losers.


• When children are removed from their supposedly 'abusive' parents and taken into care, they suffer the torture of forced separation from parents, brothers and sisters, and other relatives and friends. They are also exposed to the risk of real abuse. Such children are frequently subjected to physical, mental, and even sexual abuse, but social workers seldom listen to the complaints of children in care.


• The 1979 law has caused incalculable damage to countless families where allegations have been made and investigations carried out, even where the charges have been dropped at an early stage.


• The law has given rise to cases where children have accused their own parents of ill-treatment, without appreciating the consequences of their actions. The public prosecutor then takes over the case and may pursue it even where the parents deny any abuse and where children withdraw their accusations. In this way, the legislation has been directly responsible, not only for the destroying relationships between parents and children, but also for the break-up of many marriages and families.


The damage caused by this legislation is so serious that it should not be followed by any civilised country. Rather, Sweden needs the help of other nations to have this destructive legislation repealed.





I, the undersigned Ruby Harrold-Claesson, LL.M, am a lawyer in private practise in Gothenburg Sweden.  I am also the chairman of the Nordic Committee for Human Rights - NCHR - For the Protection of Family Rights in the Nordic Countries. I am at present working on a thesis on the law "The Abolition of Physical Punishment of Children" (Agalagen) and its effects on private and family life in Sweden and the Swedish society.


In February 1999 I wrote a paper concerning the above mentioned law and sent it to the British Government because according to information from Families for Discipline, the said government was due to publish a paper on the discipline of children. I am now in possession of the British Government's consultation paper.


During a visit to Ireland in the summer of 1999, I read an article published in the Irish Times (Aug. 4. 1999), which informed that the Irish Government was also planning to publish a consultation paper on the discipline of children. I have now updated the 1999 paper to include critique of the British Government's paper, and also new facts about the effects of the Swedish law banning child-smacking. The information contained in this paper is, I am sure, quite contrary to the 'information' that has been circulated by the leaders of EPOCH (End Physical Punishment of Children) and its Children are Unbeatable alliance. 


Unfortunately, information about the innumerable cases where parents in Sweden have been prosecuted and sentenced to prison and/or to pay heavy fines has had great difficulty reaching the outside world because of the language barrier. These cases invariably lead to the children being removed from their homes and placed in foster homes, and the families broken up beyond repair.


About the law

The Swedish law abolishing physical punishment of children - called the Anti-smacking law - was passed in 1979 to commemorate the UN Year of the Child. The law was said to be a "primarily a valuable pedagogical support in the efforts to convince parents and others that no forms of violence are allowed to be tools in the raising of children." ( .. främst som ett värdefullt pedagogiskt stöd i strävandena att övertyga föräldrar och andra om att inga former av våld får vara medel i barnens fostran).


Instead, the law has resulted in hundreds of normal parents being harassed by the police and the social authorities. Some parents have been prosecuted in the Courts, and sentenced and thus being criminalised, because they have smacked their misbehaving children.


In my judgement, the law against physical correction of children is a violation of people's private and family life, thus being a violation of basic human rights.

In 1992 the chief of police in Umeå, Sören Alfredsson and I, the undersigned Ruby Harrold-Claesson, referred Sweden before the European Commission of Human Rights for violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Our application was backed up by a detailed account of fourteen (14) cases. We reported Sweden to the ECHR because we deemed the law as being so dangerous to the FAMILY that it must be repealed.



Scandinavian Moot Court
Competition 1994

One of the cases that I had reported to the European Commission - The Refugee mother case- was the subject of the tenth annual moot-court competition, The Sporrong-Lönnroth Prize, ¹) for the Nordic countries held in Reykjavik, Island, on June 8 - 9 1994. This mooting competition was founded by Professor Jacob W.F. Sundberg of the University of Stockholm. ²). The President of the competition was the President of the European Court of Human Rights, Mr. Rolv Ryssdal. Other judges from the European Court of Human Rights, the EFTA-court, the Supreme Courts of the Nordic countries, prominent professors, lawyers, prosecutors and law-students, in all ca 200 persons were present. ³). At the end of the session, after announcing the winner of the mooting competition, Mr Rolv Ryssdal, informed us all, that if such a case should come before the European Court of Human Rights, the Court would judge it as a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention.


The case for the competition was presented as a hypothetical case in Hjo, a little town near the lake Vättern in the Province 'Suspect', as follows: Gizzur Bluetooth and his Finnish wife Riisa, had two children, Rosa born in 1979 and 'Kalle' born in 1985. The parents were Christians and they followed the Bible-teachings "whom the Lord loveth, he chastiseth". The parents therefore used different methods to correct their 'delinquent' e.g. smacking the child or locking him or her in the tool-shed for half an hour or so. One day, Rosa started to play with her younger brother, Kalle. In fact, out of jealousy, she was torturing him with acupuncture and injections. Kalle screamed, the parents told Rosa to leave her brother alone, but she insisted. Her mother then gave Rosa a smacking. Rosa stopped bothering her brother. According to the manuscript, Rosa went next door to play with her friend, Matti, whose mother, Mirja Kilpi, was a night nurse. Rosa told Mirja that her mother had smacked her. Mirja then told Rosa that she had to go to the police and report her mother otherwise Mirja found herself obliged to do so. Rosa and Matti went to the police to report Rosa's mother, Riisa Bluetooth. The rest of the case followed the "Refugee Mother case" (see below) as to the verdicts, fines and prison sentence.



¹) The Sporrong-Lönnroth Prize, was founded in commemoration of the first two applicants to have won a Human Rights case against Sweden.

²) Prof. Jacob W.F. Sundberg, University of Stockholm, professor in Philosophy of Law and International Law, was the President of the Sundberg Commission and official reporter to the European Commission for Human Rights. He has issued several volumes on Human Rights in Sweden and co-author with his son Fredrik Sundberg of 'Lagen och Europakonventionen' (The Law and the European Convention).

On December 6, 1998, Prof. Jacob W.F. Sundberg was awarded the Danish Wallenberg Society's Diploma and Medal for his "contributions to the struggle for freedom and justice".

³) Please see picture postcard taken at Reykjavik, June 1994.
UN Conference on Human Rights

Because of the damages that the anti-smacking law has inflicted on so many families in Sweden, Sören Alfredsson and I wrote to the President of UN Conference on Human Rights which was held in Austria in June 1993 urging the conference to examine the Swedish law. We wrote: "Sweden often brags about her high level of civilisation and tries to "sell" the different social institutions to other countries. 'The Swedish System' is however, not one that should be copied by other countries, especially if those countries desire to maintain their positions in the world as being civilised."




In December 1991, EPOCH (End Physical Punishment of Children) launched a campaign in London, with Swedish support, in the aim of persuading Britain adopt a Bill for the abolition of physical punishment of children. They distributed a briefing, which stated that Denmark, Finland, Norway and Austria had passed such a law. However, that was not true! Denmark did not pass its law abolishing physical punishment of children in May 1997. According to information I received from the Austrian Embassy in Stockholm in 1993, Austria did not have an anti-smacking law. Only Norway and Finland have had such laws since the mid 1980's though from the case law that I have seen the legislation in these two countries is not used in the way it is in Sweden.  


According to EPOCH's brochure, only one Swedish parent has been prosecuted for smacking a child since 1979. That is several hundred cases far from the truth. A list of some cases will be found as an appendix to this paper. The list is necessarily incomplete due to the difficulty in tracing such cases in Court records, where they all appear under assault and battery.



The Anti-smacking law

The Swedish law 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 physical punishment or any other humiliating treatment".(Parents and Guardianship Code, Chap. 6, article 1)(Föräldrabalken 6:1)


The law ranks all physical punishment of children i. e a slap on the hand, on the cheek or on the bottom, as assault and battery. Sending children to their room is regarded as "other humiliating treatment".


At a first glance, the law may appear altruistic, demonstrating care and humanity towards the younger generation. However, it has 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. The social institutions have, in many cases, unnecessarily taken over the parents' responsibility for their children and thus broken up their families.

Swedish cultural patterns do not support the Family as an institution. 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.




Before the Bill abolishing physical punishment of children in Sweden was presented in Parliament it was sent to various bodies in the society for their comments. Among those who opposed the proposal were the State Prosecutor and the Regional Prosecutor in Östergötland.


The State prosecutor (Riksåklagaren) commented: "One can wonder if the law, even in future, ought not to leave space for a difference between children and adults when it is a question of judging physical punishment or other humiliating treatment. This could be achieved by adjusting the contents of the proposed law so that the child should not be subjected to physical punishment or other humiliating treatment of a kind, which is punishable under the penal code. Thereby we would point out that treatment not deemed criminal or worthy of being criminalised would be clearly exempted. In the first place I am not at all referring to cases of abuse, but rather to the fact that many cases of treatment, which would be humiliating for an adult, and thus punishable under the law, must be accepted by children.... As far as I have understood the proposed Bill it is not primarily aimed at increasing the rate of criminalisation, but rather as a codification of the views which are prevalent in the society. It would be most unfortunate for the law-enforcing authorities if the proposed Bill should open a pipeline of police reports which lead to nowhere."


The Regional Prosecutor in Östergötlands remarked: "For my part, I do not think that this law will have the effect of reducing the number of cases of child ill-treatment. I do not think this law is going to have any effect at all. (...) I could imagine as a possible negative effect that, in the future, people are going to run to the police with reports about child abuse both in urgent and in non-urgent cases, now that there is a law which says, that children must not be physically punished in any way. This will lead the police and prosecutors to investigate a greater number of cases than before and even in many cases where there is no reason for an indictment.  Such an effect of an extended possibility of accusation is undesirable and many unjustified police investigations will certainly have very negative consequences for the children in many cases."


Cabinet Minister Gabriel Romanus also expressed several reservations. He wrote: "What we in everyday language call child abuse is a serious evil which society should use all its efforts to combat... However, the gap between real child ill treatment and the slight bodily corrections, which can arise in child rearing is wide. Some of these acts can not even be classed as battery at a lesser degree (minor assault) such as appear in the penal code." He continued, "From what has been brought forward during the period of consultative opinions, it would certainly be most unfortunate if the State could intervene and prosecute and punish every, let it be so tiny, breach of the prohibition of physical punishment."





The apprehensions of the State Prosecutor and the Regional Prosecutor in Östergötland have materialised. The Swedish law on the abolition of physical punishment of children has given rise to a series of court cases where "normal Swedish and immigrant parents" have been, and still are being prosecuted because they take their parental responsibility, and correct their children - physically where necessary. The "anti-smacking Law", which regards all physical punishment of children as assault and battery has, in fact, extended the domain of The Penal Code.


It should be noted that the law particularly targets immigrant parents and parents belonging to religious convictions. The National Board of Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) pointed out that the information to the immigrants must be clear and unequivocal that no immigrant will not be able to avoid prosecution by referring to the child-rearing practices in his home country, where parents smack their children.  The Board also appealed for information for the religious groups who systematically use "loving smacks" in bringing up their children.


The Standing Law Committee declared that "The Law (prohibiting smacking) therefore removed the uncertainty that has prevailed following the legislation reform of 1966 as to whether or not lighter hands-on corrections of children is punishable when it is performed by the custodian, and which has been expressed inter alia in the (..) verdict from 1975." (Bestämmelsen (om agaförbud) undanröjer således den osäkerhet som efter 1966 års lagändring rått om i vilken utsträckning lättare, handgripliga tillrättavisningar av barn är straffbara, när de företas av vårdnadshavaren, och som kommit till uttryck bl.a. i den ovan nämnda domen från år 1975.)


The Committee continued: "First and foremost, bodily punishment means the infliction of bodily damage or pain upon the child, even if it is very slight or quickly forgotten. The focus is on the use of violence as a means of punishment, i.e. a measure directed at the child for something that he did or did not do."

(Med kroppslig bestraffning menas främst handling som medför att barnet tillfogas kroppsskada eller smärta, även om störningen är helt lindrig eller hastigt övergående. Det är endast användande av våld i bestraffningssyfte som avses, dvs åtgärder som riktas mot barnet i efterhand, för något det gjort eller underlåtit.)


On November 17, 1978, the Christian newspaper "The Day" (DAGEN) published an editorial urging the minister of Justice, Sven Romanus, to withdraw the Bill. The editorial read: "From now on a good part of the Swedish people will be transformed into criminals." "Hädanefter förvandlar man en god del av svenska folket till brottslingar. (...).")


From what I can see the fears of the sceptics have been confirmed.



Public Opinion

In September 1991 a SIFO-poll showed that 35 % of the Swedish mothers who were interviewed, deemed it right and proper to smack their children. A further 35 % were thought to hide their views on the subject.


However, social workers and the courts enforce the law concerning the child's rights not to be subjected to physical punishment, irrespective of what the child has done. The law has thus given rise to absurd situations. Many Swedish parents are afraid of their children and dare not chastise them because they know that they can be reported to the police, indicted and fined or sentenced to prison.


Swedish youths born during and after the 1970s are often provocative, loud and rowdy, uncontrolled and uncontrollable. The Swedish Embassy in Austria and other European countries send letters to secondary school headmasters every February, urging them either to discourage the youngsters from travelling to the ski-resorts, or to encourage them to behave responsibly if they do go. In fact, there have been instances where Swedish youths have been banned in Austria and in the French Alps and not even the Danes, our nearest neighbours, appreciate their company.



Radio and Newspaper debates

In March 1992, I started a radio debate on "Child upbringing in Sweden" and since then Sören Alfredsson and I have written newspaper articles which have provoked sustained debates in certain parts of Sweden. Our message: The law against physical punishment of children is dangerous and must be repealed because it does more damage to the children than a smacking from mother or father. When the authorities - social and or police - intervene in a well functioning family's life, their life is destroyed. There is nothing that can mend the hurt and pain and the bitterness that the authorities cause and THE CHILDREN ARE THE LOSERS!



The European Commission on Human Rights

Judging from the number of indictments and judgements I have in my possession, there has been hundreds of cases, where normal parents have been prosecuted, fined or sentenced to prison for child abuse or have been very close to being prosecuted, for trying to discipline their children. Some of these cases have been focused on in the media.


In such cases, the children are almost invariably taken into public care and separated from their "abusive" parents. In order to ensure the protection of the children the social workers limit the visiting rights of the parents and their children. It should also be noted, that the real problems for the children start when they are separated from their parents and placed in foster homes. There, the children are often abused, both mentally and physically - even sexually - but the social workers seldom listen to the complaints of children in care. The forced separation from parents, brothers and sisters, other relatives and friends and being placed in new surroundings is abusive in the extreme.

Because of this absurd state of affairs, Sören Alfredsson and I filed a complaint against Sweden to the European Commission of Human Rights in March 1993. Again it should be noted that the hundreds or thousands of cases which have been reported to the social authorities, which have given rise to social investigations, but which have not reached the media or have been dismissed at an early stage, are of course, not included. However, even such cases have damaged both the parents and the children involved.


Sweden has no laws, which punish parents who let their children grow up completely devoid of any discipline so that they become anti-social and even criminal. There should therefore be no laws to punish parents who love their children and wish them well, and to that end give them boundaries within which to operate.



The Inquisition

I am therefore urging the Irish Government to take heed to the concrete evidence presented here concerning the situation of parents and children in Sweden. The prosecution of parents in Sweden has taken the form of an Inquisition where children accuse their parents of ill-treatment. All too often, the only evidence given comes in the form of statements made by the children. In some cases, (e.g. Teacher Case II, the Alfredsson case and The Priest Case), the children, aged 12, 15 and 16 years respectively, have tried to withdraw the accusations they made against their parents. However "child abuse" is the special prerogative of the public prosecutor, who takes over the case. The parents have then been prosecuted and sentenced against their own denial and against the will of the children who chose to withdraw their accusations against their parents.


The fact of the matter is this: Children have been informed of their rights and so they use their rights to demand more freedom to do as they please. They report their parents in the aim of obtaining freedom, unaware of the consequences of their report to the social authorities or the police. Their aim is not at all to see their parents charged and sentenced - perhaps to prison. When the children realise the seriousness of their accusations they try to withdraw them, but they are held to their stories - without any consideration of the damages that the children themselves incur. The social authorities, police and prosecutors are all too willing to assist the children in ruining their relationship with their families and their future lives. By proceeding with the prosecution of the parents, the authorities expose the children to unnecessary mental torture.


The resentment that the parents feel towards their children whose unacceptable behaviour was the direct cause of the charges against the parents, has resulted in the loss of normal, loving parental guidance for these children. The guilt felt by the children has also seriously damaged the parent/child relationship.


The stress and strain that the prosecution of the parents and the taking of their children into public care have caused the break-up of many of the families involved. Most of the parents involved in these cases divorced during the time they were being prosecuted for having physically punished their children. Several have no contacts at all with their children due to the damage caused by the actions against their parents.


All this prompts the following questions:


1 - Why is it deemed such a pressing need to 'free' children from responsible parental guidance?

2 - Why is the ideal parental role - that of the laissez-faire parent - so different from that which existed only a few decades ago?

3 - Who stands to gain from the new cultural norms and to which end has this been implemented?


The answer to these questions may lead to other questions of extreme importance for our views on children and the process of socialisation. For example: How can we change the cultural norms that work in disharmony with other norms and which put people into conflict with each other or contribute to the rise of problems in society?


I have compiled a dossier of 25 cases - representing fifty percent of the cases that I have collected for my thesis. They are spread out over time from 1978 - 1999. My examination of the cases shows that in 15 of the 25 cases in the dossier, the parents involved are immigrants. The remaining ten parents are intellectuals, practising Christians and people with traditional beliefs.


As I mentioned earlier, these cases are very difficult to find because they are all masked under the heading 'assault and battery' - a category of cases which is very prevalent in Sweden. However, I am sure that these cases will show that the information presented to the Irish Government by the children's lobby cannot - and should not - be trusted.


A paper similar to this one was sent to the British Government in January 1999.


The consultation paper presented on January 17, 2000, shows that the British Government reflected over the conditions to which parents in Sweden are subjected because of the Anti-smacking law of 1979. The British paper is by far better than the Swedish law in that it does not forbid all forms of physical punishment of children. However, the consultation paper opens the door for the authorities to start watching and scrutinising children unnecessarily. That will lead to unnecessary reporting of parents by their children, unnecessary watchfulness by neighbours of neighbours and unnecessary reporting of petty incidents and unnecessary investigations of parents, which will lead to parental fear, insecurity, and inevitably negligence from the parents towards their children.


The children's lobby is demanding a total ban on corporal punishment of children. Their views however, are not supported by scientific findings. The lobbyists and the experts that they forward to support their cause are ideological advocates first and scientists second.

I would therefore invite the Irish Government to visit where the following articles are published:


1 - Destroying the Family: Swedish style by Eric Brodin (published in the Washington Inquirer, was excerpted from Eric Brodin's address given to the Eagle Forum's Annual Conference, Washington, D.C., on September 21, 1985.)

2 - Taboos - smacking parents by James Heartfield (published in the June 1999 issue of LM magazine.)

3 - How to control adults by means of children's rights by Lynette Burrows (HUMAN LIFE REVIEW, Vol. XXV, No. 2, Spring 1999)

4 - Angels of Antichrist by Peter Klevius (Issues of Child Abuse Accusations, Spring 1996.)


In closing I quote James Heartfield in his June 1999 article: "The consequences of Sweden's anti-smacking laws for family life should be a warning to Britain".


I am willing to put my research including the 25 cases that I have mentioned above at the service of the Parliamentary Commission on Child Abuse. 


Olofstorp, Sweden, February 11, 2000



Ruby Harrold-Claesson


President of the NCHR.




The Trip to Nowhere. Family Policy in the Swedish Welfare State Analysed by Means of Comparative Law Method Immanent in the European Convention on Human Rights
By Jacob W. F. Sundberg


Report from The Family Education Trust, London,
By Lynette Burrows


Smack of the Nanny State?
By James Kay


Head to head: Smacking
BBC News


Sweden and The BBC
FYC News article


Why smacking should not be banned
By Norman Wells


Sweden's smacking ban: more harm than good
By Robert E Larzelere


Smacking and the Law - a European Perspective
By Ruby Harrold-Claesson


Confiscating children: When parents become victims
By Ruby Harrold-Claesson



Back to Articles

Realtime website traffic tracker, online visitor stats and hit counter