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Swedish child abuse increases

31 July 2006

Swedish child abuse increases despite anti-smacking laws

Non-government child advocate lobby groups in NZ have urged police to confirm that police officers will not arrest parents for smacking their children, should smacking become a criminal offence if Section 59 is removed from the Crimes Act, upon the passage of Green MP Sue Bradford's bill into law. In effect, what they are doing is asking police to ignore certain criminal offences when smacking is reported to Police by Child Youth and Family (CYF).

Well, it's not working in Sweden. In 1979, Sweden was the first country to ban smacking. Immediately after the ban, public approval of smacking increased right up to 1995, where it was the highest since 1968, eleven years before the smacking ban.

Child abuse has also increased and Swedish parents are fearful of becoming criminals for smacking their children. The increase in child abuse figures may well be as a result of increased reporting, however even with a ban on smacking, reported child abuse in Sweden is increasing at a faster rate than confirmed child abuse referred to CYF, as more and more trivial offences are being brought to the attention of police.

"Why are child advocates promoting a smacking ban to address child abuse in New Zealand," asks society President Mike Petrus, "when the first country to do just that (Sweden) has had nearly a 900 percent increase in reported child abuse to police since the ban, and increased public support of the use of physical discipline, on average, for 16 years years after it was outlawed?"

Reported child abuse at the hands of persons known to the child, such as caregivers, has more than doubled in Sweden in eight short years - between 1990 and 1998 - because smacking with an open hand and other light offenses are now included in official figures. These figures reveal that reported child abuse to police increased from just 165, the year after smacking was banned in Sweden, to a staggering 8286 last year.

For the period 2001-2003, the most recent year CYF provided statistics in a report released last week, official figures reveal that confirmed child abuse cases to Child, Youth and Family increased by 215. However child abuse reported to police in Sweden increased by 677 during the same period, a much faster rate for a country double New Zealand's population. Cases of violence within the family in Sweden account for 70 percent of reported cases. Two thirds of victims have divorced parents. Cases of less serious violence, including smacking with an open hand, have increased.

One report suggests the way to reduce child abuses is to make parents more aware that smacking is a crime so that parents feel that the risk of being reported for smacking is greater.

"That is not the way to curb child abuse", Mr Petrus says. "All it does is give parents greater fear that they will be criminalised for trivial offences. Reports from Sweden show that is happening in that country at an alarming rate, and child advocates are dreaming if they firmly believe that it won't happen here should Section 59 of the Crimes Act be repealed."

And that is precisely the fear that New Zealanders have of Ms Bradford's bill ."If passed, it could well make criminals out of previously law abiding parents without reducing serious child abuse," Mr Petrus concludes.


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