Assaulting children

Assaulting children

By Greg McIvor, foreign correspondent


Gothenburg, February 1993


This article was previously published in The Jamaica Daily Gleaner and in several English language newspapers around the world, on February 8, 1993.

It is reproduced her with the kind consent of the author.




Parents fined or jailed for smacking their children are appealing to the European Court of Human Rights to overturn Sweden's ban on corporal punishment at home.

Sweden was the first country in the world to remove parent's rights to discipline their offspring physically. A 1977 law banned corporal punishment at home or any "humiliating treatment" which included ordering children to stay in their bedrooms.

The other Nordic countries now have similar laws and Germany is considering legislation. However, there is a growing backlash in Sweden following a series of apparent injustices where parents who have smacked a child on isolated occasion have been convicted for assault.


For the last 20 years Lars Carlsson had been a foster parent to socially and mentally disturbed children, often with criminal backgrounds

Last year he was forced to restrain one of them, a 17-year-old girl, from vandalising the house. She attacked him with a knife and Carlsson was forced to hold her down until she relented.

The girl complained of ill-treatment and despite the absence of bruising, her version of events was accepted in court. Carlsson was sentenced to four months' imprisonment for assault.

"I have been suspended from my job and my reputation is ruined," he said. I have been helping the worst children in our society for 20 years and this is my reward."

He said he always tried to reason with his foster children when they became unruly but he occasionally had to intervene physically to prevent serious violence.  

Carlsson's is not an isolated case. Ruby Harrold-Claesson, a Jamaican-born lawyer in Gothenburg, has compiled a dossier of a dozen cases where parents have been fined or jailed for assaulting their children


Exercise control
She believes there have been hundreds of similar cases since 1977 and hopes the European court of Human Rights will declare the law an infringement of a parent's right to exercise control over its child.


"Parents are now afraid that their children might report them," she said. The law treats children like dolls to be wrapped up and treated with care.'

She said it was normal practice for schools frequently to remind children that they should tell their teachers if they were smacked at home.

“That is the sort of thing you associate with Communism”, said Harrold-Claesson. “It is a wonderful thought that you can just sit down with a persistently naughty child and sort things out, but sometimes you need corrective measures"

One case currently in the headlines features a police superintendent in northern Sweden who was heavily fined after allegedly striking his 15-year-old daughter on the backside with a carpet beater.


The alleged assault occurred after the daughter pushed her handicapped mother down the stairs following an argument. The girl consulted the school nurse and the case ended up with the social authorities which pressed charges against the police officer against the daughter's wishes.


The officer said: “These proceedings are like the witch hunts of the 15th century.” He added: “The law equates an occasional smack with assault but the children are the ones who lose out because the whole family is dragged in.”

Anna Christensen, Professor of Civil Law at Lund University said courts were too quick to believe a child's word against the parents. There are cases where the accused is found guilty on the basis of evidence which would not be strong enough in other types of cases," she said.

Rune Torwald, a former centre party politician who was one of a handful of MPs to vote against the 1977 law, said it encourages indiscipline.

"We have got to the crazy point where there is a general insecurity among parents about disciplining their children" he said.

Maj-Lis Lööw. the Social Democratic Party's spokeswoman on social affairs, said it was hard to determine where spanking became assault and therefore a general ban on hitting children was necessary.

"Changing the law is not up for discussion," she said. “If you assault someone, whether an adult or child, it is not acceptable. It doesn't matter if you hit your child once or 10 times, it is still assault."

Children's groups are firmly behind the law as it stands. “People no longer accept the use of violence in the home," said Lisa Hellström of Save The Children. “A child must have the same rights not to be assaulted as an adult.”

Louise Sylvander of the Organisation Children's Rights in Society, said: “there is never a reason to hit a child. Discipline is not achieved by violence"



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