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Sharon James: Smacking is banned in the Swedish utopia. And how the children suffer

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Sweden has a reputation for being something of a utopia, with low rates of child poverty and infant mortality, long life expectancy, high levels of gender equality and a comprehensive daycare system that is the envy of the world.

However, at a recent conference of the Family Education Trust, Jonas Himmelstrand, a Swedish social commentator, presented evidence that told a quite different story, one of the unravelling negative effects of their ideologically driven social liberalism.

He detailed  Sweden’s  marked increase in diagnosed psychiatric illnesses among young people in recent years,  the breakdown in discipline in schools,  the decline in educational outcomes and in the quality of parenting.

Sweden is also the country that anti-smacking crusaders have long looked to. In 1979, in the context of its state-driven attempt to create a classless society and achieve higher levels of greater gender equality and to liberate mothers from their maternal instincts, it became the first nation to ban parents from smacking their children.

The crusaders however have never told us about the unintended consequences of this well-intentioned but foolish law. They are these:

Sibling-on-sibling violence increased.  Child abuse increased (with parents not allowed to use controlled mild discipline frustration rose, and some of them lashed out). As a result just two years after the ban, 22,000 children in Sweden were removed from their homes to protect them (compared to 163 in Norway in the same year).[1]

Yet, where innocent loving families are involved, to remove a child from the family could itself be regarded as a form of abuse.

In December 2013 a twelve-year old Malaysian boy told a teacher in Stockholm that his father had smacked him. He and his three siblings have been sent back to Malaysia to live with relatives, while their parents await trial and possible imprisonment.[2] This violation of  their human rights, ironically, is where Sweden’s smacking ban has led.

Is this really a model we would want to follow here – resulting in  handing yet more power to the State and further undermining family life?

And do we really want to follow the Swedish example where any exercise of authority is viewed as ‘repressive’?

Swedish psychiatrist and author David Eberhard argues that Sweden’s child-centred policies have produced self-centred adults. If children are brought up to think that no-one has the right to say ‘no’ to them, the rest of life cannot possibly deliver. No wonder among Swedish teenagers, that rates of depression and attempted suicide have soared;  that behaviour in many schools is out of control; that children argue that no adults have the right to tell them what to do. Unsurprising too is that their academic results have plummeted.[3]

Of course all cruelty to children is wrong.  There are strong laws in place to protect children from abuse. But to label a tap on the hand, used in the context of protecting a little child from a situation of a danger, as ‘abuse’ is a confusion of categories. And to advocate a ban on all smacking, in case it ‘turns into’ abuse is as ridiculous as saying one should ban all fathers kissing their children goodnight in case that ‘turns into sexual abuse’.

So when the crusaders next demand a ban on smacking, let’s remember that handing yet more power to the State is unlikely to add to the sum of happiness of our children, rather the opposite.


[1]   Larzelere R E (2004), Sweden’s smacking ban: more harm than good, Christian Institute and Families First, 2004.

[2]  Rachel Banning-Lover, ‘Muslim Couple arrested in Sweden for “smacking son when he refused to pray”’, Daily Telegraph, 23 January 2014; ‘Children of Malaysian couple arrested in Sweden return home’, The Hindu, 1 February, 2014.

[3]  David Eberhard, How Children Took Power, 2013, (not yet published in English translation). Jens HisGard, ‘Is Sweden raising a generation of brats?’ Wall Street Journal, 10 February, 2014.

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Sharon James
Sharon James is a Social Policy Analyst for the Christian Institute

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