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NEW ZEALAND

Smacking kids is never acceptable: Swedish politician

Thirty years have passed since Sweden banned parents from smacking their children. But Liberal Party MP Helena Bargholtz is dismayed to learn that New Zealand is holding a referendum to reintroduce the practice.

Smacking kids is never acceptable: Swedish politician

I am so disappointed learning from the Swedish media about the referendum in New Zealand as to whether corporal punishment should be reintroduced.

Hitting people is wrong – and children are people too. Corporal punishment of children breaches their fundamental rights to respect for their human dignity and physical integrity.

Its legality breaches their right to equal protection under the law. The rights of all children – the smallest and most fragile of people – must be fully respected.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child requires States, in its article 19, to protect children from ‘all forms of physical and mental violence’ while in the care of parents and others. The fact that corporal punishment of children is legal in many countries, unlike other forms of inter-personal violence, challenges the universal right to equal protection under the law.

Hitting children is also a dangerous practice, which can cause physical and psychological injury and even death. Corporal punishment is identified by research as a significant factor in the development of violent attitudes and actions, both in childhood and later life. It inhibits or prevents positive child development and positive forms of discipline. Promoting positive, non-violent forms of discipline empowers parents and reduces family stress.

In previous centuries, special defences existed in legislation in many states to justify corporal punishment of wives, servants, slaves and apprentices. Violence to women remains far too prevalent, but in most states it is no longer defended in legislation. It is paradoxical and an affront to humanity that the smallest and most vulnerable of people should have less protection from assault than adults.

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.

Available data show that no more than 11 per cent of the adult population in Sweden are positively inclined to even minor forms of physical punishment. 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. The Swedish Parental Code prohibiting the 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 indicating 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 fewer cases of child abuse and neglect fail to come to the attention of the social welfare authorities.

In other countries, where corporal punishment is not prohibited, for example the USA and Canada, the number of reports of child abuse and neglect has 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 recognized 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.”

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OPINION & ANALYSIS

OPINION: Sweden’s incredible disappearing climate election 

The campaign so far suggests that Sweden's image as a paragon of virtue on the environment might be at risk, says David Crouch

OPINION: Sweden’s incredible disappearing climate election 

Four years ago next month, a 15-year-old girl sat down on the cobblestones outside parliament in central Stockholm. She refused to go to school until Sweden’s general election that September, to draw attention to the climate crisis.

July 2018 had been the hottest in Sweden since records began 262 years ago, and forest fires had ravaged large parts of the countryside. Greta Thunberg’s school strike gave voice to a pent-up feeling that something must be done to curb global warming.

Within months, she had become one of the world’s best-known figures in the climate debate, leading mass protests for immediate and radical action. 

But this Friday, July 1, Thunberg was back on the cobbles outside parliament with just four supporters, repeating her message of 2018. She might be tempted to ask, after all her campaigning: why doesn’t the climate have a higher profile in this year’s Swedish elections? 

There is every reason for it to do so. According to the latest report from the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change, the world has “a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future”. Some damage was already irreversible and ecosystems were reaching the limits of their ability to cope. Their findings were an “atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership,” said UN secretary-general António Guterres. 

Sweden’s self-image as a leader on green issues is undermined by recent slippage, delay and prevarication. In 2017, left and right came together to agree that the country should become “the world’s first fossil-free welfare state”, with zero carbon emissions by 2045 and negative ones thereafter. Sweden became the first nation to enshrine this target in law. However, the country is not on target to achieve this goal. In its latest assessment, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency said more measures would be necessary to prevent progress from slipping further behind on its climate transformation. 

As for other environmental targets that the country committed to achieve by 2020, 15 out of the 16 goals have not been reached. Growth, prosperity and consumption are taking precedence over the environment, researcher Katarina Eckerberg told Dagens Nyheter: “It’s the elephant in the room. No one dares to tell the truth, we are [just] trying to polish the surface a bit.” 

At the party-political level, climate policy seems to have stalled. Since Magdalena Andersson took office in the autumn, the “climate collegium” (klimatkollegium), set up in 2020 as a place for ministers to discuss essential climate initiatives, has not met. Party leaders debated energy and climate in public in early May, but the focus was on the hit to citizens’ pockets caused by rising fuel prices, with left and right united on lowering taxes. What we do for the climate in Sweden won’t bring down the temperature in India, said Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson, whose party rejects the 2045 zero-carbon target. The Green Party, who left the government in November, has seen its ratings sink steadily lower in the polls. 

Sweden’s greenhouse gas emissions actually increased by 4% in 2021 – partly because the economy bounced back after Covid, but still a worrying trend. Almost 80% of wind power projects in the country were vetoed by local municipalities, as the kommuner increasingly say no to wind power, putting a spoke in the wheels of Sweden’s green transformation.

This all adds up to climate taking a back seat so far in this year’s general election campaign. This is in sharp contrast to Norway’s “climate election” last autumn, which saw the country’s reliance on oil come in for sharp criticism and success for parties campaigning on green issues. The climate dominated the campaigning in Norway after the IPCC published a “code red” warning on the climate. For Germans also deciding whom to vote for last September, alarming events at home and abroad drove home the urgency of the climate crisis, with deadly heat waves, wildfires and devastating floods that left more the 200 dead.

More recently, the Australian election in May became essentially a climate election, with the victorious centre-left putting climate change and environmental policy firmly back on the agenda. Closer to home, a feature of elections in Denmark and Finland in 2019 was that the climate also enjoyed a profile higher than ever before.

Meanwhile, however, the world seems to be going backwards on the climate. This week, the US Supreme Court ruled that the country’s main environmental regulator has no power to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Thanks to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, demand for coal has shot up. Just months after the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, there is a backlash in business circles against so-called “woke capitalism”, with the idea of environmental investment coming under attack from populist politicians and financiers.

Swedes themselves are consistently well-informed and concerned about the environment. The environment and climate are around fifth on the list of voters’ main concerns, after crime, health, schools and inflation. Immigration and refugee issues, which have long dominated the Swedish debate, are in sixth place, while defence and security – despite the debate over Nato – are down in seventh place, according to an Ipsos poll in June.

But at the polling booth, when it comes to casting their vote, it seems that most Swedes have little faith that political parties will make much difference. Despite the fact that the climate had such a high profile in 2018, the issue did not even end up among the top 10 reasons for choosing a party to vote for, according to polling station surveys commissioned by SVT. Instead, voters feel this is a global problem rather than a Swedish one. “It wouldn’t matter if every Swede held their breath so as not to emit a single molecule more of carbon dioxide – progress would still be negative,” the head of polling company Novus told Svensk Dagbladet last month.

So Sweden seems set to continue to make slow but unspectacular – and even disappointing – progress on the climate in coming years. It would be a shame if the country, with its solid record on the environment and its fondness for grand declarations about the future, were to become a byword for greenwashing rather than a beacon for a better world. Greta and her supporters have work to do here at home.

David Crouch is the author of Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works and What Can We Learn From It. He is a freelance journalist and a lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University.

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