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Law Reform, Corporal Punishment And Child Abuse: The Case Of Sweden

Joan E. Durrant, Staffan Janson

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Over the past 70 years, Sweden has implemented a series of proactive legal reforms aimed at eliminating the corporal punishment of children in homes, schools and institutions. The most recent of these reforms took place in 1979 when Sweden became the first nation to explicitly abolish corporal punishment. The primary purposes of the ban were to recognize and affirm children's rights to security of the person and to inform the public and professionals that corporal punishment is neither socially acceptable nor legally defensible. It was expected that, over time, parents would demonstrate decreasing support for this practice and decreasing use of it. Ultimately, it was expected that the ban, and the legal reforms that led up to it, would contribute to lower levels of parental violence toward children. In the present article, evidence from a variety of sources is examined to assess trends in child physical abuse in Sweden over time. It is concluded that acts of violence against children have declined dramatically in Sweden over recent decades corporal punishment is infrequent, serious assaults are uncommon, and child abuse fatalities are extremely rare. Implications of legal reform for the well-being of children are discussed.