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Swedish Parents Kill 258 of their children

The Society for Promotion of Community Standards Inc.
P.O. Box 13-683 Johnsonville www.spcs.org.nz

28 July 2006

Swedish Parents Kill 258 of their children (1965-1999)

Sweden has been hailed by Green MP Sue Bradford as an enlightened country where anti-smacking legislation has had a significant impact on reducing the number of child homicides committed by parents.

Ms Bradford wants to repeal Section 59 of the Crimes Act, which provides a defence of “reasonable force” to parents, or those in the place of parents, charged with smacking their children for the purpose of corrective (domestic) discipline. She claims Sweden's child homicide rate is one case every four years, as opposed to one every month in New Zealand (Close Up TV One 19 July). Society president Mike Petrus says: “Her call for the repeal of Section 59 is based on lies, deceit and shoddy reasoning. “

In Sweden 258 children under the age of 16 years were killed by their own parents between the years 1965 and 1999 – an average rate of about seven child homicides per year – over a 35 year time period when legislation had been in place for some time that banned smacking. These figures are based on a major published study carried out by researchers from the University of Stockholm and reported in a leading Swedish newspaper The Daily News (May 12, 2006). They did not include child homicides committed by persons unknown to the child victims or those where the relationship of killer and victim was unknown.

See: http://www.dn.se/DNet/jsp/polopoly.jsp?d=572&a=544328&previousRenderType=2

Figures released by Child Youth and Family yesterday revealed that for the five year period 1999-2003 just over one child under 15 years of age died on average in New Zealand every two months as a result of “maltreatment” – about half the rate Ms Bradford has claimed (“maltreatment” is defined as “all aspects of abuse and neglect”). These figures (annual rates ranging from 2-11), unlike the Swedish figures quoted by Mrs Harrold-Claesson, do include child homicides committed by non-parents, including total strangers. (If this stranger component, about 6% of the homicides committed over the five year period in NZ reported by CYF, is removed, the child homicide average annual rate (1999-2003) drops slightly).

The Swedish child homicide rates, seven on average per year (1965-1999), were recently highlighted by Swedish family lawyer Ruby Harrold- Claesson on TV One's Close-Up (19 July). Ms Bradford, who was also interviewed on the same programme, rubbished Mrs Harrold-Classeon's figures, stating: “Basically I don’t accept what Ruby is saying. Her credibility in Sweden is not high .. to be polite…” (This attack on Ruby’s character did nothing to help Ms Bradford’s cause).

Earlier in the interview Ms Bradford had admitted she was aware of one of the sources from which Mrs Harrold-Claessen drew her figures: The Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention. And yet she later attacked her for disseminating misinformation. Ms Bradford provided no source for her own spurious figures: her erroneous claim that there is only one child homicide in Sweden every four years.

Ms Bradford wants to model our legislation on Swedish law and pave the way for additional laws that will enable legislators to ban smacking altogether as Sweden has done. She incorrectly claims her bill is similar to Swedish legislation passed in 1957, where legislators removed the legal defence of reasonable force for the purpose of corrective discipline. However, the Swedish law change did not affect the criminal law as Bradford’s bill does. It only affected the Parental Code (Civil Law).

Yesterday, when Mrs Harrold-Claessen provided evidence to the Justice and Electoral Committee examining Ms Bradford’s bill outlawing smacking, she provided documentation that showed that in the first three months of this year at least four children died in Sweden of child abuse at the hands of their parents. She also said that increased institutional violence against children is occurring throughout Sweden as a result of the 1979 Swedish law banning smacking, and provided some horrific examples.

The Swedish social service agencies – the equivalent of our Child, Youth and Family Services - are currently using their greatly increased powers to remove children from their parents when they follow up on unproven and often spurious allegations relating to the application of reasonable disciplinary measures by parents.

One case documented by Mrs Harrold-Claesson, involved a couple who have had all seven of their children removed from them by a Swedish state agency. They have yet to have them returned, despite the fact that the one parent, the father, who was charged with “gross disturbance of the peace” under anti-smacking legislation, was acquitted in November 2003. The mother was not accused of any misdemeanours.

The Society, along with all members of the S. 59 Coalition, is calling on MP's to examine the facts and reject Ms Bradford’s bill. Banning smacking didn't reduce child abuse in Sweden and it won't reduce child homicides here. All it will do is criminalise parents for lightly smacking their children and undermine the authority parents should have with respect to their duty and responsibility to discipline their children.



The Society has released an English translation of some important sections of the Daily News article which is in Swedish, and can be found at


“Step-parents abuse children to death more often”

In 35 years 258 children in Sweden were killed by their parents. 23 of them were ill-treated to death. Step-children were more often killed by ill-treatment than children who were killed by their biological parents, shows a new study from The University of Stockholm.

The Daily News, May 12, 2006 [In Swedish]


258 children under the age of 16 were killed by their parents between 1965 and 1999. 23 of the children (9%) were abused to death. Step-children are more often killed by abuse than children who are killed by their biological parents, according to new research from the University of Stockholm. More than half of the 258 children were killed in connection with a conflict between the parents e.g. divorce or custody battle. Most of these children died in connection with the extended suicide where the perpetrator took or tried to take his own life. The men who murdered their children also often took the life of their partner. On the other hand, no woman tried to kill their partner when she murdered the children, writes senior lecturer Hans Temrin and PhD student Johanna Nordlund at The University of Stockholm.

We have done research into the cases where children under the age of 16 were killed by their parents in Sweden between the years 1965-1999. In total, 258 children were killed in 200 cases during these 35 years, in average 7 children a year. More than half of the victims were under the age of 5 years old (59%, 151 children).

23 of the 258 victims, or 9 %, were killed by gross abuse.

We have 9 cases in total where the step-parents murdered their step-children. In total 3.5 % of the children were step-children, which not is a overrepresentation in relationship to the proportion of step-children in the population. Step-children are on the other hand more often killed by abuse than children killed by their biological parents. The step-parents who were perpetrators in our material, had often a criminal background, were addicts or earlier convicted for violent crimes.

More than half of the 158 victims were killed in connection with a conflict between the parents (e.g. divorce or custody battle) where the direct reason does not seem to be connected to the child.

None of these children were killed by abuse, like kicks or punches, instead most often by the perpetrator drowning or strangling the children.

Most of these children died in an extended suicide where both the partner and the children were killed at the same time.

In more than 65% of the cases the perpetrator tried to take or took his own life in connection to the crime. The perpetrator suffered from some kind of mental illness or was deeply depressed in two thirds of the cases.

This shows that of the children who were killed by their parents, only a small part of them were killed by lethal violence. [The prior sentence, though incoherent, is an accurate translation of the Swedish text.] Step-parents are still over-represented as perpetrators when children have been abused to death.

A study performed by Richard Gelles and Ǻke Edfelt in 1986 compared Sweden and the USA in regard to violence against children. The study showed that Swedish parents in general use less violence than American parents. This difference was explained by the relatively new law against corporal punishment.

But when you compared the violence against children more specifically, there was no major difference between the countries.


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