The Times, September 24, 1998

Sweden was first to spare the rod

SWEDEN was the first country to outlaw corporal punishment of children (Frances Gibb writes). The ban was brought into force in 1979. Public support for corporal punishment in Sweden has declined markedly and some attribute this to the change in the law. Among the countries that followed suit were Norway, in 1987, and Austria, in 1989.

Allan Levy, QC, specialist in child law and human rights, who acted for the boy in yesterday's landmark case [See: European Court ruling bans corporal punishment of UK children], said that such laws were about "changing hearts and minds".

He added: "People in Sweden have come to realise the dangers of escalating physical contact and yet there have been very, very few prosecutions."

In Sweden the law - which is part of the civil code and was passed with an overwhelming majority - is meant to be educative rather than punitive. One father was fined only 10 for smacking his 11-year-old child. And prosecutions are falling.

Neither has the law prevented parents from administering the odd smack. Trivial assaults, as with trivial assaults between adults, are not prosecuted.

Researchers believe that children are very aware that parents are not allowed to hit them.

An opinion poll in Sweden in 1965 found that 53 per cent of people believed that corporal punishment was indispensable to parents. That figure dropped to 26 per cent in 1981 and to 11 per cent in 1995.


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