The smacking law hypocrisy – By Ruby Harrold-Claesson

The smacking law hypocrisy – By Ruby Harrold-Claesson

The smacking law hypocrisy

On August 21, Sweden awoke to the first part of the government report that was commissioned to investigate the abuse of children who had been in state care between 1950 – 1980. The report was commissioned following the documentary “Stolen Childhood” that was broadcasted in Nov. 2005.

Between 200 000 – 250 000 children were in foster homes and orphanages during the period 1950 – 1980. Today, many of them are suffering from mental disorders, others have broken relationships, poor education, low self-esteem, difficulty to find work or chronic unemployment, have become substance abusers and many are dead mostly due to overdoses, suicide or gang killings.

So far 62 persons have been interviewed by the commission. Another 120 persons are still to be heard. They have told gruesome stories of the abuses that they suffered in their foster homes or the orphanages in which they were placed. Light smacks and other forms of discipline that were acceptable before the passing of the anti-smacking law are not taken into account: only that which constituted assault or gross bodily harm and which under normal circumstances could have been prosecuted if the reports from the children and/or their parents had been heeded, have been recorded.

The former foster children tell of how they were beaten with brooms, leather belts, punched, deprived of food, made to eat food that they had vomited, sexually abused, insulted, pushed down stairs, held under water etc. Some of these crimes were committed after 1979 – the year of the passing of the anti-smacking law. The documentary about Ekbacken “treatment home” where more than 20 youngsters were placed between 1980 – 2003, showed how youngsters were removed from their parents care because they had been smacked, then placed at Ekbacken where they were severely abused.

It is quite interesting to hear the reactions of the head of the commission, Göran Johansson. “It was much worse than we had expected. None of us knew the full extent or depth of their misery,” Göran Johansson told Dagens Nyheter. “We feel a sense of desperation, and indeed rage, with respect to the stories we have heard,” he said.

“They tell of systematic abuse at the hands of those who were supposed to care for and protect them as children. There was everything from ruthless exploitation by means of physical labour to serious assault, psychological terror and rape,” he added.

Maria Larsson, the minister of Health and Welfare said: “I am very upset over the fact that so many children were so badly treated while they were in state care in Sweden”. “I feel numb when I read the report. At the same time it is necessary that these stories come out in the open so we can see what has been hiding in our Swedish history. It is a dark history, she said. (Sweden’s dark history also includes the forced sterilisation of ca 60 000 mostly women from 1936 – 1976 when the law was repealed.)

The NCHR is pleased that the Swedish government is now in possession of the report into the conditions for the children who were former residents in foster homes and orphanages. It is however of utmost urgency that the government should investigate the conditions of the tens of thousands of children and young people who are living in foster homes today.

Neither the social authorities nor the police listen to the reports of abuse that the foster children, their parents or others make on their behalf. Not even reports made by lawyers are treated with any degree of seriousness.

I only hope that the government will not wait another 20 or 30 years to investigate the conditions of the children in the so-called “family homes”. These children are suffering abuses similar to those unearthed by the foster home abuse commission.

See also “Sweden to probe years of abuse in children’s homes”, and Foster home child abuse ‘worse than expected’,

By Ruby Harrold-Claesson
President of the NCHR/NKMR

Ruby showed these two videos to a number of people while she was in New Zealand in July 2006.


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