Parenting in Jesus' Footsteps

The Swedish Example ~ A Model for Reform

Al Crowell, Director of Christians for Non-Violent Parenting, December 2001

1920: At this time severe beatings were being given to children in Sweden often based on religious (Lutheran) influence.  Legislators made a change in the law stating that parents should not punish children, but rather reprimand them.  However, the legal defense of parent's rights to use corporal punishment remained in the law.  In other words, assault was illegal in the country except in the case of a parent against his or her child.

1950: The legal defense of corporal punishment was removed from the assault law.  Therefore children now had the same rights, on the books, as adults to be protected from assault.  However, parents still had the right to use mild corporal reprimands, which were not considered assault.  And state institutions could still use corporal punishment.

In 1959 something brilliant happened. Some group was able to persuade school institutions, staff, and administration to resist using corporal punishment for one year as an experiment. After the year, reports showed success without corporal punishment.

1960: Abolition of corporal punishment in public institutions.

1966: The paragraph giving parents the right to use light corporal punishment was removed from the law.

1979: A high profile case of a father beating his three-year-old daughter and still winning the court case demonstrated that the law, as written, was not enough to guarantee courts interpreting the current law equally for children as it did for adults.  Therefore a public education campaign began which included a large exhibition on child abuse in Stockholm which 60,000 people saw.  Two things emerged from this campaign, 1) A commission was appointed to look into the present law, and 2) Based on the commission's findings and review by thirty experts, the following historic law was passed:

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 other injurious or humiliating treatment.
More brilliance:
No penalties were attached to the law (except for assault).  Violating parents would be helped with support and education.  This aspect greatly helped the law's passage.

The country printed and distributed pamphlets that outlined the reasons for the law and alternative democratic means of gaining children's compliance.  These pamphlets were placed in all medical facilities dealing with parents and children and in schools.

The law was printed on milk cartons for two months so that families could discuss it over meals.

The law and pamphlet material was integrated into the nation's ninth grade school curriculum, which covered child development.

Swedish public opinion shifts.  Acceptance of corporal punishment steadily diminishes:

1. Poll results from 1965 - 1994

Answering "yes" to the following statements --
"Corporal punishment is sometimes necessary."
1965 - 53%
1968 - 42%
1971 - 35%
1981 - 26%
1994 - 11%
"Children should be brought up without corporal punishment."
1965 - 35%
1971 - 60%
2. It was observed that Swedish parents were quite permissive in the eighties after the law was passed and the educational campaign had begun.  However, by the nineties, that situation had been largely corrected.  Skilled democratic childrearing methods had evolved, displacing permissiveness.

The number of child abuse cases received by St. Goan's Hospital in 1989 had fallen to one sixth the 1970 level, and Sweden had one half the abuse rate, and one-third the child abuse-related fatality rate as the U.S.

Reprinted by permission from the author.  Based on
The Swedish Ban on Corporal Punishment: Its History and Effects  by Joan E. Durrant, Ph.D.

Back to Articles Page