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SW 2021.04.18 Sweden Family Law & Child Rights – Theory & The Dark Reality
Sweden Knows Best

Children Rights in Sweden

Sweden
Family Law & Child Rights
Theory & Reality

A report prepared by:

Nicolaos A.A. Cheropoulos, a Left-Behind parent
Stockholm Mars 2021 (published 2021.04.18)

Content:

Family Law

-Family life

Children in Sweden start off living with their mother and father, who may or may not be married, and tend to have one or two children on average. But separation is not unusual. Today, 75 percent of children under 18 live with both their birth parents, while about 18 percent live with a single mother or father, and about 5 percent live with a stepfather or stepmother.

About one in four children in Sweden has a family with roots in another country. Most children living in Sweden who were born abroad or whose parents were born abroad come from Syria, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, or East Europe (Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Poland, and the Baltic States).

-Family dispute resolution

In disputes about children, social services have a collaboration service for parents in which they can help them come to an agreement in relation to them, which is voluntary. If there is a court case about children, the court can order (if the parents agree) collaboration talks with social services.

The court can also appoint a mediator.

In almost all cases, the judge will try to mediate between the parties.

At present, it is not necessary to participate in any attempts to come to an agreement either before or during a court case. However, a change of the law has been discussed so that collaborative talks are a requirement before a petition is filed. This has not yet been implemented.

-Legislation

Swedish legislation on marriage and divorce is gender-neutral, meaning same-sex marriages have the same status as other marriages and are regulated under the same legislation.

The legislation was made gender-neutral on 1 May 2009, and since then, it has not been possible to enter into civil partnerships in Sweden.

Those who were in civil partnerships under Swedish law at that time could, by joint application, transform the partnership into a marriage.

The remaining civil partnerships are governed by the Registered Partnership Law. The Registered Partnerships Regulation governs the validity of agreements on the choice of applicable law and the validity of partnership property agreements.

-Media access and transparency

The main rule in Sweden is that all court cases are open. If a party wants documents or testimonies classified, it must have a legal ground (for example, because it concerns something extremely sensitive such as mental health records).

In family cases, a party must make a special request if it wants a document to be private.

Court hearings are also open. The press has every opportunity to access information, but they almost never do.

Source:
https://uk.practicallaw.thomsonreuters.com/w-028-8934?transitionType=Default&contextData=(sc.Default)&firstPage=true

https://www.regeringen.se/contentassets/8d1eded381754ebca85a52d707fe54a8/parents-and-children—brief-information-about-current-legislation/

Child’s Rights

-Schooling

Ever since 1842, every child in Sweden has had the right to go to school by law. Today there are ten years of compulsory schooling, divided into four stages: förskoleklass (‘pre-school year’, year 0), lågstadiet (years 1–3), mellanstadiet (years 4–6), and högstadiet (years 7–9). Most children then go on to the optional gymnasium (upper secondary school, or the equivalent of American high school – years 10–12) and graduate when they are 18–19.

Children who are between 6 and 13 years old are offered out-of-school care before and after school hours. Compulsory education also includes sameskolor (Sami schools) for children of the indigenous Sami people.

-Laws

Around one-fifth of Sweden’s 10 million inhabitants is under 18. The Swedish law ensures that children are well protected and their rights are defended.

In 1993, the Swedish government appointed an ombudsman to protect children’s rights and look after their interests. The Ombudsman for Children in Sweden is obliged to follow the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and enforce it in Swedish society. Sweden was one of the first countries to sign up. As of 1 January 2020, Sweden has incorporated the UN Convention into Swedish law.

In 1979, Sweden became the first country to ban corporal punishment of children. By introducing a ban in the Parent Code, which is a civil code, Swedish law explicitly states that parents cannot use any form of violence or other humiliating treatment as part of bringing up their children. The aim was not to criminalize parents but rather to change attitudes. Having said that, beating or spanking a child is also a criminal offense, according to the Swedish Penal Code.

-Help and support

There are many organizations that young people in Sweden can turn to if they need help. Children’s Rights in Society (BRIS) offers support services such as telephone helplines, chat, and email counseling.

Friends is an organization dedicated to stamping out bullying, mainly in schools but also outside – during organized sports activities, for example.

Save the Children Sweden (link in Swedish) is another organization that defends the rights of children.

The Best Interest of The Child

-Custody/parental responsibility

An unmarried mother has sole custody of the birth of the child. If the mother agrees, the child’s father will receive joint custody by filling in a form by which paternity is established.

Married couples have joint custody.

“Custody” means having the right to make all the important decisions about a child (for example, relating to the child’s school, medical care, application for a passport, and so on). If the custody is joint, decisions must be made together with the other custodian.

A child can have one, or a maximum of two, parents and custodians.

Custodians have the right to obtain all information relating to their child. A non-custodian has no right, without consent from the custodian, to get information or participate in decisions relating to the child.

After a divorce, custody will remain joint unless one or both parents make a petition for sole custody.

The court can only make orders regarding:

  • Sole or joint custody.
  • If there is joint custody, which parents should the child live with, or if the child should live alternately with both parents?
  • Contact orders for the parent that the child doesn’t live with or if there is sole custody for the non-custodian.

The court can also make orders on where the child should be picked up and who should pay the traveling costs.

Child orders can also be made on an interim basis during an ongoing process.

The court will not make an order if neither parent has made a petition relating to the child during the divorce.

The duration of an order lasts until the child is 18 years of age.

A welfare report is often made to the court based on social services talking to schools, parents, and the child if the child is around six years or older. The report should also contain a risk assessment and analyze the effects of both long and short-term orders.

The judge will not talk to the child, but the child has a right to be heard and express his/her views in the report. The report will also come up with a suggestion on how the court should rule.

The child has no legal or other representatives in court.

The court will always need a short report from social services on whether they have any knowledge of the parents and children that could be relevant to the court’s decision, in which the child can be heard. Written and oral evidence is also put to the court by the parties to prove what is in the best interest of the child.

-The court must only consider what is in the child’s best interests

When deciding what is best for the child, the law states that the child must not be subject to any risk, that good and close contact with both parents is important, and that the child’s own will should be taken into consideration, depending on the child’s age and maturity.

When deciding on custody, the court must also take into account the parent’s ability to co-operate in decisions regarding the child.

Other adults that are important to the child in addition to the parents, for example, grandparents and step-parents, have no right of action of their own and must turn to social services, which can file a petition on contact if they find that that is in the child’s best interests.

-International abduction

Sweden has ratified the HCCH Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction 1980 (Hague Child Abduction Convention).

The Swedish Foreign Ministry is the central authority of the convention.

All cases on return orders are dealt with by the Stockholm District Court. Applications to the court are made by the left-behind parent. The central authority mainly assists the applicant in finding competent representation in Sweden. Legal aid can be granted to applicants, subject to usual Swedish requirements.

If a child is taken out of Sweden to a country that has ratified the Hague Child Abduction Convention, the central authority will assist in the process of trying to bring the child back. This also applies when a child is taken to a non-convention state, although the same instruments are then not available.

The rules contained in the Brussels II Regulation and the European Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Decisions concerning Custody of Children and on Restoration of Custody of Children also apply to child abductions in Sweden.

Leave to remove/applications to take a child out of the jurisdiction

Typically, if a custodial parent wants to relocate to a foreign country, they will be required to obtain full custody of the child.

There are cases where the courts have allowed relocation to nearby foreign cities, like Copenhagen, but that cannot be expected to apply to relocation to all countries.

If the court grants a request to relocate internationally with joint custody, the applying parent will still face many potential practical problems. The other custodian can still refuse to sign the necessary papers, such as an application for a passport. All important decisions regarding the child still involve both parents if they have joint custody. The only way a parent can be guaranteed to be able to do what she or he wants in terms of relocation, choice of school, and healthcare is to obtain sole custody. This means that relocation cases, in reality, often turn into custody cases.

As in most countries, the court will try to determine what the effect will be on the child if one alternative or the other is selected. After considering all the relevant circumstances, the court will decide in accordance with the best interests of the child.

The court will, among other things, consider:

  • To which of the parents, if any, does the child have the closest relationship?
  • What effect the relocation will have on the relationship with the other parent.
  • What effect the relocation will have on the child’s relationship with their other relatives.
  • If the child is well adjusted in their school and social life.
  • What the living conditions, material standards, schooling, and education will be like in the new country compared with the old country.
  • The opinion of the child (depending on its age and maturity).

In short, the same things are considered whether a parent wants to relocate within or outside the country, but it is more difficult to be allowed to relocate internationally.

For those who wish to relocate to Sweden, it is important to know that Swedish courts do not make mirror orders of orders from other countries, and foreign court orders are not valid or enforced in Sweden without special regulations in law.

-International aspects

An agreement or decision on custody, residence, or contact that is applicable in Sweden is also applicable in other EU countries and in the Nordic countries. Agreements and decisions from these countries are applicable in Sweden. Sweden and several other countries have also entered into an agreement on cooperation to return children who have been wrongfully removed or retained. If a consensus solution cannot be achieved, it is possible to get help from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to have the child returned.

Source:
Parents and children – brief information about current legislation

Author’s Comment:

Indeed, all of the above sounds great, and one can easily believe that Sweden is a paradise where law and order rule with an efficient public administration where “Human Rights” and “Child Rights” are protected and respected. But does theory correlate to reality? The answer, in my opinion is no when reading some of the excerpts beneath from a report conducted in 2020 (report: LOIPR Final version Feb. 2020).

-Access to effective and child-friendly remedies
Children in Sweden lack sufficient avenues to exercise their rights to effective remedies on a local, national, and international level. Despite the recommendations from the Committee, the Swedish government has not stated any plans to ratify the Optional 3 Protocol on a communications procedure or to investigate the question further by appointing an inquiry.

In addition, no actions are taken by the government to introduce a national complaint mechanism for children, nor to provide the Ombudsman for Children with the mandate and resources to receive individual complaints. The Swedish government has proposed that Sweden should establish a national institution for human rights. However, according to the proposal, the institution will not be able to receive individual complaints.

-The Ombudsman for Children
According to the government’s annual letters of appropriation to the Ombudsman for
Children, the budget has not been modified significantly,
although the number of activities and responsibilities continue to increase. This is worrying, especially as the CRC has recently been incorporated into Swedish law, and support is continuously requested from authorities at all levels. It is of significant value that the Ombudsman receive appropriate resources in order to be able to fulfill their mandate to effectively support the implementation of the CRC at all levels.

There are examples of how consequence analyses are based solely on legislative history, policies, or guidelines, without any independent assessment concerning the individual case or the voice of the child. Used this way, the best interest of the child as a procedure,
results in severe shortcomings in the application of the law in relation to the general principle of the best interest of the child.

One example of the clash between national legislation and Article 3 is that in the Swedish Social Services Act, guardians’ consent is almost always needed in order for children to be granted support.

Source:
Sweden – List of issues submissions consolidated from Swedish civil society organizations working with child rights LOIPR 2020.02.20

My personal experience as a Left-Behind parent confirms that everything is not so rosy in Sweden, where the MFA of Sweden ignored and neglected two of their underaged citizens who were abducted. Despite all my efforts and attempts to get some kind of help and support from the Swedish authorities since 2017, I received unbelievable answers like;

In regards to your request for a timeline of contacts made etc., it is not something we assist with. I can, therefore, refer you to the information that you will receive after your request for access to public documents has been processed (after I submitted an application, I received in total of 150 blanc pages (!?))

We are currently trying to find out if there are any additional steps you can take in the context of the return case. If not, this case will be closed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As before, you will be informed as soon as we receive a response from the Belarusian Central Authority.

An international parental abduction is clearly an international matter, and it is clearly not “neutral” – how could it ever be? – and, if a Swedish citizen faces an extraordinary situation, such as having his/her kids abducted by a foreign citizen from Swedish soil to another country, then the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sweden needs to react as well, in addition to any other governmental authorities or agencies. Please note that this is not purely just a “child abduction” matter. This is also a matter of how Sweden, as a country, responds to a hostile action performed against their own citizen. Every one of us represents Sweden, and if we, Swedish citizens, are abducted, we want to be efficiently helped by the Swedish government.

In the end, I was forced to reach out for help Internationally, and I got help from the USA (MFA of USA), who wrote a letter to the MFA of Sweden, who started to move, not much, but they pretended that they move because they realized that they are observed!

I did the heavy lifting instead for the Swedish Government, which was barely moving at all. The weak link in the battle for the return of my children has been the Swedish State.

The Central Authority of Sweden currently lives under the impression that it is enough to just act as a formal paper-pusher and administrative agent rather than working dynamically to try to get abducted children back home ASAP.

Sweden’s self-perceived global role: Promises and contradictions

Sweden’s attempt to define its role on the global stage as a “humanitarian superpower” and its feminist foreign policy through communicating to a global audience a brand and reputation in order to provide soft power leverage.

A basis for the humanitarian superpower brand can be found in the Swedish understanding and practice of neutrality and non-alignment, which can be understood as humane values and a basis for the self-perceived legitimacy of Sweden to act in global affairs. These are two important concepts in highly politicized debates, such as the NATO membership debate (Simons, Manoilo, & Trunov, 2019). The Swedish understanding of neutrality politics is summed up very well in a speech by Olaf Palmer in 1968.

Sweden has used brands to try and influence global audiences’ opinions and perceptions of the country in order to offset significant tangible constraints in terms of hard power capacity (related size of the population, strength of the economy, and strength of the military). There has been an attempt to use the information domain to shape the cognitive domain through subjective representations of the physical domain to enable the country to punch above its weight in the international arena. This, however, to an extent, relies on the enforcement of national consensus to project a sense of unity and purpose in an almost messianic mission to change the world for the better.

The Complete Article:
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2590051X19300085 (must read)

Concluded

In this context, the presentation of Ms. Ann Linde published on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sounds almost comical;

Ann Linde- Ex-minister MFA of Sweden defends officials wearing headscarves in Iran

Ex-Minister Ann Linde

“As more and more democracies are challenged around the world, Sweden must continue to be a strong and respected voice for peace, freedom, and human rights. Our foreign policy should contribute to, in cooperation with others, strengthening the safety and security of our immediate area and globally. This is how we protect fundamental democratic rights and common security worldwide.”

Or when Ms. Åsa Lindhagen, ex-Minister for Gender Equality, presented that The Convention on the Rights of the Child becomes Swedish law, to whom, by the way, I wrote and presented the abduction of Anthie’ and Alexandra but never received any feedback on my appeal.

It is obvious that these people are insulting and underestimating the intellect of the Swedish people in their attempt to promote a false and inaccurate picture of the Swedish reality internationally.

Source:
https://www.government.se/government-policy/childrens-rights/
https://actionagainstchildabduction.com/en/state-bodies-sw/

Nicolaos AA Cheropoulos (author)
Father of Anthie and Alexandra
Stockholm, Mars 2021 (published 2021.04.18)

Reviewed Oct. 2023
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