Observations of the Children’s Ombudsman with respect to the written replies of the Government of Sweden concerning the list of issues (CRC/C/Q/SWE/3) raised by the Committee on the Rights of the Child in relation to the consideration of the third periodic report of Sweden.
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A. Data and statistics
4. Children with disabilities
There is no data on the total number of children with disabilities. The Children’s Ombudsman has at various occasions called for the collection of such data. The Children’s Ombudsman has also suggested that this data should be disaggregated by type of disability.
6. Child abuse
There is no data available on victims of child abuse aged 15 to 17 years of age. In the view of the Children’s Ombudsman, the fact that the statistical data on crimes against children 15 years of age and older is not separated from the data concerning adult victims makes the monitoring of the implementation of some of the rights contained in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (hereinafter “the CRC”) difficult. The Children’s Ombudsman considers that this data should be further disaggregated, in particular by gender.
11. Number of children involved in sexual exploitation
There is some data on the possible number of children who have been victims of sexual exploitation in Sweden that has been reported by the Committee on knowledge concerning sexual exploitation of children in Sweden (SOU 2004:71, pp. 60-61). Although it is difficult to get a precise picture of the extent of the problem, in the view of the Children’s Ombudsman more efforts should made to identify the number of children affected in Sweden.
B. General Measures of Implementation
1. Previous Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child
According to the survey conducted by the Children’s Ombudsman in 2003 involving all municipalities in Sweden, 18 % replied that they have a co-ordinating function for the implementation of the CRC. In the previous survey, conducted in 2001, the corresponding figure was 19 %. On the positive side, 43 % of the municipalities in the 2003 survey replied that they had some kind of general function for the monitoring of issues concerning children and young persons. (This question was not asked in the previous survey). The results are difficult to compare, as different municipalities have varying ways of working with and co-ordinating the implementation of the CRC within their fields of competence. These and other results from the Children’s Ombudsman’s 2003 survey of the implementation of the CRC at the local level do however show that, although the CRC now is very well known in the municipalities, the progress in its implementation has not been as strong as the Children’s Ombudsman would have liked. In the opinion of the Children’s Ombudsman, more precise nation-wide goals for the implementation of the CRC at the local level should be identified and particular attention should be paid to child-impact assessments.
Independence of the Children’s Ombudsman:
In the short run, the fact that the Children’s Ombudsman does not have the possibility to pursue individual investigations allows the Ombudsman to concentrate on working on a general level with the aim of promoting the effective implementation of the CRC at the national, regional and local levels. In the long run, however, the Children’s Ombudsman believes that there will be a problem of legitimacy if the Ombudsman will not be able to pursue individual investigations concerning children’s rights, as there is no complaints mechanism in Sweden that is especially designed for children. The fact that childhood is not a “discrimination ground” does not need to be an obstacle. For instance, the Consumer Ombudsman investigates individual cases, although being a consumer is not considered a “discrimination ground”.
Children of illegal immigrants (“children in hiding”) do not have the right to education in Sweden, although they now enjoy the full right to health care (with the exception that this right is regulated in an agreement between the Government and the regional councils, while it is regulated by law as concerns children who have permanent residence permit in Sweden).
Racism and xenophobia:
According to figures presented by the Living History Forum and the National Council for Crime Prevention in October 2004, eight percent of pupils in grades eight and nine expressed high levels of intolerance towards Muslims and six percent towards Jews. 2.2 percent of pupils with a Swedish background and 6.6 percent of students with an immigrant background reported that they had suffered physical violence because of their background. Forty percent of pupils born abroad replied that they at some point had been insulted because of their origin. 10 600 randomly selected pupils participated in the survey.
The proposals contained in the inquiry report (SOU 2004:50) quoted by the Government, although a step in the right direction, will, in the view of the Children’s Ombudsman, regrettably make it possible for the municipalities to – simply by means documentation – escape any responsibility for failure to resolve cases of bullying at school.
The Government presented a bill to parliament in November 2004 concerning revisions to the criminal code regarding sexual offences. If adopted by Parliament, the bill will lead to important improvements with respect to the protection of children against sexual exploitation as it, inter alia, provides for the elimination of the “dual criminality requirement” for extraterritorial jurisdiction regarding a number of crimes against children. In the view of the Children’s Ombudsman, however, the proposition does not provide sufficient protection for children over 15 years of age and, although the new bill makes a distinction some sexual crimes against children and those against adults, the sentences stipulated for these crimes against children are, as a rule, not harsher than those committed against adults.
Furthermore, the Government bill does not address the inconsistency between the definition of child pornography in the Criminal Code and the definition of the child in the CRC and of “child pornography” in the optional protocol to the CRC. According to the Criminal Code, the term “child” in the meaning of child pornography is a person who is not sexually developed or who, when it can be determined on the basis of the image and the circumstances surrounding the image, is under 18 years of age. In practice this has led to a situation in which a man who had produced pornographic material by filming two girls, whom he knew were minors, was acquitted by the court of appeal from charges of production of child pornography.
3. Individual complaints mechanisms for children
There are many complaints mechanisms in Sweden that in principle are available to individual children. However, most of these mechanisms may only issue recommendations concerning the issue at stake. In most cases, an effective remedy can only be obtained through a court procedure. As a rule, however, only the legal custodian(s) of a child can initiate legal proceedings on behalf of the child. Furthermore, as the Government notes in its written replies, there are no mechanisms that are especially designed for children. As a consequence, in practice only those children, whose parents are willing and able to complain on their behalf, have an effective remedy to possible violations of their rights.
6. Dissemination of the of the CRC
The Children’s Ombudsman has, with the support of the Government, produced two information publications on the CRC to children, one for children aged 5 to 9 years and one for children aged 9 to 13 years, along with a teachers’ manual and a CD-ROM. 50 000 of the publications for children, 2800 teachers’ manuals and 1200 CD-ROM have been distributed. Funding for a third publication, for children aged 13 to 16 years, has been received from the Government in autumn 2004.
1. The implementation of the CRC
A survey conducted by the Children’s Ombudsman in 2003 among all 88 public authorities at State level shows that the progress that was evident between the two earlier surveys has slowed down. The Children’s Ombudsman is also concerned, that according to the replies to the survey, 13 public authorities, among them Statistics Sweden, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and the Swedish National Rural Development Agency, do not find the CRC to be of particular relevance to their field of responsibilities. The Children’s Ombudsman considers that the Government should issue more precise instructions to State authorities with respect to the requirements of the CRC.
7. Adolescent health
The waiting periods of children and young persons for medical and psychiatric services continue to vary significantly in different parts of the country. In late 2004, the longest waiting period in Sweden for psychiatric services for children was two years and the shortest less than one week. In many parts of the country, the waiting periods were over six months. The longest waiting period for medical services was two years and the shortest less than one week. In most parts of the country, the waiting periods were six to twelve weeks for medical services. All these numbers concern children who do not have acute medical or psychiatric problems that would give them priority.
A survey, presented by the National Agency for Education in December 2004, shows that more than half of the pupils aged ten to twelve years feel that only rarely or occasionally do they have peace and quiet so that they can focus properly on the education.
10. Juvenile justice
Contrary to paragraphs 72 to 74 of the United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty (UNGA res. 45/113 of 14 December 1990) there are no fully independent inspectors who conduct regular inspections of the facilities run by the National Board of Institutional Care. For children placed in other foster care institutions than those run by the National Board of Institutional Care, there is an independent supervisory mechanism, but, contrary to paragraph 73 of the UNGA res. 45/113, there is no general right of juveniles to talk in confidence to an inspecting officer.
11. Asylum-seeking children
The Children’s Ombudsman is concerned that effective measures to improve the situation of asylum-seeking children who arrive to Sweden without being accompanied by an adult have not yet been adopted. As explained in the Government’s written replies (p.6) there have been 124 registered cases of disappearances of asylum-seeking children in Sweden in 2004 (in some cases one child can be the object of two or more registered disappearances). A parliamentary inquiry concerning this problem presented its proposals already in May 2003, but the Government still has not presented a bill concerning this issue.