Sweden's first Ombudsman for Children was appointed on July 1, 1993. The issue of appointing a special spokesman for children and young people had been discussed in Sweden´s Parliament on a number of occasions through the 1980’s and into the early 1990’s.
Several Bills put before Parliament had called attention to the fact that children had no representative of their own who could invoke the law to safeguard their interests. The Ombudsman for Children in Norway was often cited as a good example of such an office. Various voluntary organisations also actively promoted the appointment of an Ombudsman for Children in Sweden.
One of the main debates during this time was whether the work of the Ombudsman for Children should be at a general level, or whether he or she should become involved in individual cases. One of the arguments against the Ombudsman for Children´s involvement in individual cases was the risk that the tasks of the Ombudsman for Children might come into conflict with the work of the Parliamentary Ombudsmen, or other government agencies.
Sweden ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
In 1990 the Swedish Parliament ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (the CRC). Sweden was thereby committed under international law to implement the Convention.
At about the same time, the Government decided to appoint a Commission of inquiry to examine the issue of a government-appointed Ombudsman for Children. In September 1991 the Commission submitted its report, "An Ombudsman for Children and Young People" (SOU 1991:70). The Commission recommended that Sweden appoint an Ombudsman for Children with the task of safeguarding and promoting in the community the rights, needs and interests of children and young people. A majority of the official comments submitted supported the Commission´s proposals, and in a Bill (1992/93:173), the Government proposed that the Ombudsman for Children in Sweden be set up.
Work on a general level
The Bill emphasised that setting up an Ombudsman for Children in Sweden must not result in any reduction in the responsibilities of the municipal authorities or the supervisory authorities. Neither should the Ombudsman for Children take over the work done in this field by the voluntary organisations. The main task of the Ombudsman for Children would be the overall monitoring of children´s and young people´s issues, as set forth in the CRC and Swedish legislation.
The Swedish Parliament approved the appointment of an Ombudsman for Children, and "The Ombudsman for Children's Act (1993:335)" came into effect on July 1 1993. Under the provisions of the Act, the work of the Ombudsman for Children in Sweden should be general in nature, and include information and opinion-forming activities on matters concerning the rights and needs of children and young people. The Ombudsman for Children in Sweden should not focus on individual cases.
Changes in legislation and a national strategy
In 1993, the Government established the office of the Ombudsman for Children in Sweden.
In the 1990’s the Ombudsman for Children addressed a series of issues, not least issues related to the influence of children and young people, and to children at risk. The Ombudsman for Children was instrumental in having one of the basic principles of the CRC, Article 3 (the best interest of the child), written into the Parental Code, the Aliens Act and the Social Services Act, as a central paragraph.
In March 1999, the Swedish Parliament unanimously approved a national strategy to implement the CRC. The starting point for this strategy was that the spirit and intentions of the CRC should be given consideration in all decision-making concerning children in the country´s municipal and county authorities and in government agencies. A three year assignment gave the Ombudsman for Children in Sweden a key part to play in this work.
On July 1, 2002 the work of promoting the introduction of the CRC in government agencies and municipal and county authorities was made one of the Ombudsman for Children´s permanent tasks.
A stronger Ombudsman for Children
The Ombudsman for Children Act was modified on July 1, 2002, nine years to the day after the office was set up. These changes in the legislation strengthened the mandate and authority of the Ombudsman for Children in Sweden. Statutory provisions now regulate a greater part of the Ombudsman for Children´s activities. Thus, decisions on the work of the Ombudsman for Children are passed by Parliament instead of being made by the Government.
The Ombudsman for Children in Sweden is now empowered to request from individual government agencies and municipal and county authorities information about what they are doing in their activities to ensure compliance with the CRC. Furthermore, the Ombudsman for Children is also empowered to summon government agencies and municipal and county authorities for discussions.