The child´s right to family life in Sweden 

Lena Hellblom Sjögren, Ph.D., Licensed psychologist 2017-08-05

Sweden is known to be a country of social reforms. This does not imply though that the UN and the European Declaration of the Human Right to family life is respected. This is what my work as an investigative psychologist and as a researcher of alleged child abuse and of complex custody cases for 25 years has documented.

But first some good facts. Sweden is the leading country Sweden is the leading country statistically when looking at shared habitation: 35-40 % of Swedish children with separated parents share an everyday life with both of them. This corresponds to about 200 000 children.

Another good thing is that the trend for couples to separate has stopped, but until now only in families where the parents have a higher education. The reason I say this is good is that the research about children´s health and well-being show that children´s fundamental need is to have love and acceptance from both parents (or those who are as parents during the child´s upbringing, (Khaleque&Rohner, 2012), and that the children are better off when their parents keep together (Fransson, Bergström & Hjern, CHESS-report 2015).

A Danish researcher (Andersen, 2016) points out as a decisive reason for more equal sharing of the responsibility for the children and also the work at home, is that Sweden, as also other countries in Scandinavia has invested in building up public child care and in offering women full-time work.

A growing number of disputed custody cases since 2006 have demonstrated that a mother, or a father, from all social classes, who cut off the child´s contact with the other parent, not seldom in combination with allegations of abuse or psychiatric problems, easily can take control over the child and influence the child to reject the other parent without any objective reason – as the investigations made by the police or by consulting psychiatric records show. But at that time a considerable amount of time has already passed.

The manipulation might be done as this can happen very fast. You can compare with so called radicalization processes when recruiting to different fundamentalistic groups, as for example Isis. In this case of manipulation through an effective thought reform process (Thaler Singer 1995) the child in the severe cases expresses as its own will not having any contact with mum/dad.

The controlling/alienating parent can lean back and say: you cannot force a child against the child´s will. He/she gets support from the professionals who see him/her as He/she, almost certainly, gets support from the professionals who see him/her as the parent protecting the child. The social workers (87 % of them women), have the full responsibility in Sweden for making investigations as a preparation for the general courts (we do not have any family courts or other experts than the social workers appointed by the courts) to investigate and in practise take the decisions about custody, residence and visitation.

The social workers ask the children, sometimes in the presence of a social workers ask the children, sometimes in the presence of a controlling/alienating parent – in their eyes the “good guy”- and always without any authentic documentation, about the child´s preferences where to stay, and of having contact with the parent that has been cut off. This they call ”the child´s will” and it governs their judgments. The judgment made by the social worker in charge is then formalized by the local politicians. This is given as that political board´s investigation to the courts.

In almost 100 % of the cases the local politicians, and after that the courts decide in accordance with the judgments made by the social worker in charge. Sometimes that social worker can ask a psychologist to talk with the child Sometimes that social worker can ask a psychologist to talk with the child, or ask a medical doctor to examine a child, but after that the social worker can decide whether she wants to listen to what the psychologist or doctor says – or not.

All the professionals, as a consequence of their belief in, and their good intention to respect, “the child´s will”, see the controlling/manipulating parent not as a child manipulator but as a child protector.

Roots and wings shall be given to the child by its parents. Words of wisdom of unknown

We can think of the child/any of us as a tree.

Unconditional love is a child´s fundamental need, above food, water, shelter. Most parents love their child and want to give their child roots and wings.

In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 we can read:
Article 16 (3)

”The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled
to protection by society and the State.”

The Swedish state has a fundamental law, with one article of great importance, as it regulates what also the social workers must respect (Regeringsformen 9 §):

“Courts as well as administrative authorities and others fulfilling tasks within the public sector shall in their activities pay attention to everyone´s equality before law and exercise matter of factness and impartiality.” (Lag 1976:871)

Swedish family law called ”Föräldrabalken,” Chapter 6 (Lag 2006:458) is the article most referred to in custody disputes.

”2a § The best interests of the child shall be decisive for all decisions regarding custody, residence and visitation. When judging what is in the best interest of the child special attention shall be taken to – the risk that the child or someone else in the family is abused or that the child without permission is taken away or is detained or in some other way is treated badly, and – the child´s need of a close and good contact with both parents. The child´s will with reference to age and maturity must be considered.”
The European Convention on Human Rights, ECHR, is incorporated in the Swedish law since 1995. In article 8 ECHR we can read about the human right to family life:

1 Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2 There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

In 1989, world leaders decided that children needed a special convention because people under 18 years of age often need special care and protection that adults do not. The leaders also wanted to make sure that the world recognized that children have human rights too. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of the child´s human rights-civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, was ratified by Sweden in 1990, but is not yet incorporated in the Swedish law.

Below two relevant articles from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child when addressing the cutting off of a mother or a father from a child without a legitimate cause and influencing the child to think this is what the child him-or her-self wishes (parental alienation):
“Article 8
1. States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference.
2. Where a child is illegally deprived of some or all the elements of his or her identity, States Parties shall provide appropriate assistance and protection, with a view to reestablishing speedily his or her identity.

Article 9
1. States Parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will, except when competent authorities subject to judicial review determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child. Such determination may be necessary in a particular case such as one involving abuse or neglect of the child by the parents, or one where the parents are living separately and a decision must be made as to the child’s place of residence.

2. In any proceedings pursuant to paragraph 1 of the present article, all interested parties shall be given an opportunity to participate in the proceedings and make their views known.

3. States Parties shall respect the right of the child who is separated from one or both parents to maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents on a regular basis, except if it is contrary to the child’s best interests.

4. Where such separation results from any action initiated by a State Party, such as the detention, imprisonment, exile, deportation or death (including death arising from any cause while the person is in the custody of the State) of one or both parents or of the child, that State Party shall, upon request, provide the parents, the child or, if appropriate, another member of the family with the essential information concerning the whereabouts of the absent member(s) of the family unless the provision of the information would be detrimental to the well-being of the child. States Parties shall further ensure that the submission of such a request shall of itself entail no adverse consequences for the person(s) concerned.”

The national family law and the child´s human rights help us to define the globally used concept of the best interests of the child.
A general definition of the best interests of the child
The best interests of the child, above being well enough fed and given shelter, can be defined as the child´s right to be able to have love and acceptance from both parents/or those who are as parents during the child´s life/ in an everyday based contact, the right to keep identity through the child´s family roots on both parents´ sides, and not to be abused emotionally/psychologically/mentally or physically/sexually, and to have the right to speak up when correctly informed, but never to be asked to choose between the parents.

I met with Lisa whom I had met 20 years earlier when she was three years old, in her room. She then showed me her favourite teddy bear and told me with joy that it was a present from her daddy Per, whom she longed for.
After that she didn´t have any contact with her dad because of her mum and the professionals who allied with her.
I asked Lisa 20 years later: – When you will have children of your own they will ask about their maternal grandpa, what do you think regarding that?
Lisa: Then I hope that mum will have a new husband who can become grandpa. I´d never let my children see Per alone. Never in my whole life.

Lisa is included in 60 of my case investigations of severe custody conflicts I analyzed in my research project called ”The best interests of the child and the child´s human rights in severe custody conflicts.”

Nearly half of these cases were presented in my book 2012, 2013: The child´s right to family life. 25 Swedish case studies of parental alienation.
The systematic source critical analysis of direct and indirect statements and documents produced over time in every case demonstrated a loving relationship that had been broken without any legitimate causes. The children´s legal and human rights had been violated, the children had lost their identity, also in some cases their language. Eight of the 25 cases describe the loss of a mother, three of the cases describe the loss of life: two children, one father, one mother and one grandmother.

In not one case had the social workers respected the fundamental law; they had violated their obligation to be matter of fact oriented and impartial.
The conclusion from that research, and from the investigations and research I have done during the years after that, is that the same practise is going on. There is nothing good coming out from cutting off children from their loved ones, but sadly the harm done is not recognized as the psychological abuse it is. Instead there is an ongoing everyday practice in Sweden that is not in accordance with national law, not with the child´s human right to family life, and not in accordance with the child´s right to keep identity, and thus must be considered as serious violations of the best interests of the child, urging to a rapid change of practise.