Children's rights

Last updated: 24/11-2023

About Sweden – an orientation about Swedish society.

This text is about children’s rights. There are children in the world who grow up during wars, children who have to work, and children who cannot go to school. There are also children who do not have any adults who care for them, children who get beaten and children who do not have any food to eat. In order to protect children and their rights, the UN has drawn up the Convention on the Rights of the Child, or the Child Convention.

Three children seated on a bench with the flag of the United Nations in the background.

The text describes the Child Convention and how Swedish law protects children. It also describes organisations that work for children’s best interests.

The Child Convention

The Child Convention exists to guarantee all children their human rights. Children are particularly dependent on adults to ensure their human rights are respected. That puts them in a vulnerable position. The convention states that all children are unique individuals with their own rights.

The Child Convention further emphasises the individual child. Children are private individuals with individual needs, interests, and opinions.

The Child Convention lists rights that apply to all children until the age of 18. These rights include protection from war and from being subjected to abuse. Other rights concern the child's right to privacy. This means that a child is entitled to have private conversations with friends, for example, or to keep a diary that adults do not read.

The convention also includes rules. A country that signs the convention promises to follow those rules. Sweden and almost all of the other countries in the world have agreed to follow the Child Convention. In Sweden the Child Convention has also become law.

The Child Convention was written in 1989. Sweden signed it in 1990, but had worked to promote children's rights before that as well. In 1950, for example, Sweden made it illegal for teachers to hit their pupils. In 1979, it became illegal for parents and relatives to hit their children. Since then, all violence against children is prohibited.

The fundamental principles of the Child Convention

The Child Convention contains 54 rules, known as articles. All of these articles are equally important, but four of them are guiding principles that we should bear in mind when reading the other articles.

These four articles are the basic principles of the Child Convention:

  • Article 2 states that all children are of equal dignity and worth and have the same rights. No child may be discriminated against.
  • Article 3 is about the best interests of the child. Politicians, government agencies and courts must always consider what is best for the child when making any decision that affects children.
  • Article 6 states that every child has the right to life and to development.
  • Article 12 states that children have the right to express their views and that adults must listen to them.

It is the responsibility of government agencies and adults to protect children's rights and to listen to what children think and feel about decisions that concern them. This means, for instance, that children must be given the opportunity to express their opinions before decisions are made that affect their schooling, leisure time, or families.

Think about what kind of protection you had and what rights applied for you when you were a child.

Children are entitled to protection against violence

All violence against children is forbidden under the Child Convention and Swedish law. This applies to both psychological and physical violence. Violence against children includes assault, sexual abuse and female genital mutilation.

Genital mutilation is usually carried out on children between the ages of 4 and 14. In Sweden, the genital mutilation of girls and women is forbidden. This applies even if the child in question agrees to undergo it. A person carrying out female genital mutilation can be sentenced to prison. Such a prison sentence can be handed down in Sweden even if the genital mutilation procedure was carried out in another country. The social services are empowered to impose a prohibition on leaving the country if there is a risk that a child will be subjected to genital mutilation.

Nationellt centrum mot hedersrelaterat våld och förtryck (the National Centre Against Honour-related Violence and Oppression) has a brochure about genital mutilation of girls and women. The brochure is available in several languages.

Child marriages are prohibited in Sweden

Child marriage means that someone under the age of 18 marries either another person who is under 18 or an adult. Child marriages are prohibited under the Child Convention and Swedish law. This also applies to child marriages in other countries. Child marriages entered into abroad are not valid in Sweden.

Hedersfö have made a video about being married against one’s will. The video is available in several languages.

Organisations that work to promote children's best interests

There are several organisations in Sweden that work to promote the best interests of the child. Some provide direct support to children when they need it. Others work to make children's rights a bigger consideration in society.


Barnombudsmannen, the Ombudsman for Children, is a government agency that monitors whether public institutions and others are following the Child Convention. Barnombudsmannen reports any shortcomings they find in Sweden to the government. They also make proposals for how Swedish laws might be changed to improve children's rights in Sweden.


Children's Rights in Society (Barnens rätt i samhället, Bris) is an organisation that helps children who are anxious or have problems. Calling Bris at 116 111 is free of charge. Anyone who is under 18 can call Bris and speak to an adult about anything. The person at Bris receiving your call will not see your number, neither will Bris' number appear on the phone bill. Bris can also help adults who are worried about their children. Adults should use Bris' number for adults, which is 077-150 50 50.

Rädda barnen/Save the Children

Rädda barnen/Save the Children is a global organisation that is active in many countries – in Sweden, they have offices in almost every municipality. They work to make the Child Convention a reality for children all over the world. In Sweden, Save the Children is involved in educating politicians, decision makers, parents, and other adults. They also provide support and protection for children in difficulties.