Children’s rights and the Child Convention

Last updated: 4 10 2021

About Sweden – an orientation about Swedish society.

Children’s rights are specified in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (the Child Convention), of which Sweden is a signatory. The ultimate responsibility for ensuring that the Child Convention is followed lies with the states that have signed it. But it is also important for parents to know what rights children have so that they can support their children in upholding those rights.

This text is about children’s rights and the Child Convention. It describes the Child Convention and what the rights in it can imply for parents, as well as who has to follow the Child Convention.

  • The right to a family life

    Children have special rights, and it is the responsibility of the state in which they live to ensure that these rights are upheld. All children have the same rights, and are equal in worth. No child may be subjected to discrimination.

    Children's rights are enshrined in the UN's Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Child Convention. It states, for example, that all children have the right to grow up in safety and security, and that the best interests of the child must always be considered when making decisions that concern children. It also states that children must be protected from war and disease, and that children's views must be respected.

The Child Convention

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, also known as the Child Convention, specifies rights that all children in the world are entitled to. The convention applies to all children between the ages of 0 and 18 who live or temporarily stay in a country. Sweden has signed the Child Convention, which means that the rights specified in it apply to all children who live in Sweden, regardless of whether they are Swedish citizens, if they are living temporarily in Sweden or if they are asylum seekers. This section describes some of the rights in the Child Convention, but not all of them.

The basic 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 is about the equal worth of all children and that they all have the same rights. No children 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 is about every child's right to life and development.
  • Article 12 is about every child's right to express their view, and about adults' obligation to listen to children.

Who has to follow the Child Convention?

All adults have a responsibility to respect, defend and strengthen children's rights. Ultimately, it is the Swedish state that is responsible for ensuring that Sweden lives up to the articles of the Child Convention. This includes adapting Sweden's own laws and regulations so that they match the rights laid down in the convention. Government agencies, courts, municipalities and regions are also responsible for implementing the Child Convention. This means, for example, that:

  • Politicians in a municipality have to ask children what they think before making decisions about things that affect children.
  • If a child's parents are going to get divorced and they cannot agree on where their child should live, the court has to ask the child as well as the parents about what they would prefer.
  • Municipalities have to think of what is best for children when they build new housing, for example, or a playground or a school.
  • Health and medical care services and schools have to work to ensure that no child is discriminated against.

In what way do parents have to follow the Child Convention?

The Child Convention says that it is the state that is ultimately responsible for guaranteeing children's rights. But as a parent or guardian, you play an important role in defending your child's rights and making sure they are upheld. The Child Convention can serve as guidance and support for your parenting.

Parents have to follow the law, and the laws must be adapted to the Child Convention.

The Child Convention says that it is the parents or other guardian who is responsible for a child's upbringing and development. That is both a right and an obligation.

Being the guardian of a child means being responsible for the child and ensuring the child's well-being. Usually, a child's guardians are the parents.

Parents and other guardians are entitled to support from public services, such as from the municipality or from health and medical care services.

Some examples of rights in the Child Convention

What does the Child Convention actually mean for children, parents and other adults in their everyday lives? Read on to find out. The following text describes some of the rights enshrined in the Child Convention, but not all of them. It includes examples of how parents can take the various rights into consideration.

All children are of equal worth

All children must have the same opportunities and rights. No children may be discriminated against. This means that no child may be treated worse than any other person because, for example:

  • The child has a particular gender.
  • The child has a functional impairment.
  • The child's parents were born in a particular country.
  • The child practises a particular religion.
  • The child comes from a rich family or from a poor family.
  • The child speaks a particular language.

For example, both girls and boys must be able to choose to play football or to take dance classes.

Children must never have to suffer harassment, racism, bullying or other demeaning treatment. As a parent, it is important that you speak to your child about what is going on in their life, such as at preschool, at school and online.

Children's best interests come first

When adults make decisions that affect children, they always have to think about the best interests of the child. For example, when politicians, government agencies, schools and courts make decisions about things that affect children, they always have to consider what is best for children. This applies regardless of whether the decision will affect a single child or a group of children.

Children's right to life and development

Children have the right to life and to development. They need many things in order to develop well, including a home, security, love, medical care and education.

Sometimes children need extra help and support – homework help, for example, or support in relationships. Some children need medication or technical aids, such as a wheelchair or a hearing aid.

Parents or other guardians have the main responsibility for ensuring that children grow up feeling safe and secure and that their needs are met. If parents need support, public services such as the social services can provide support and help.

Children must be allowed to say what they think

Children have the right to say what they think about things that affect their life, and adults have to listen to them. Government agencies and courts, for example, have to ask children their opinion and listen to them when making decisions that affect children. Similarly, a municipal politician has to ask children their opinion before making decisions that affect children.

Children must be protected against violence and abuse

The Child Convention and other laws in Sweden prohibit all forms of violence against children. Sweden has had a prohibition against hitting children or using other forms of violence against them since 1979.

This prohibition applies to everyone, everywhere – at home and throughout society.

Violence against children is when someone hurts a child. This might be:

  • Physical violence: Physical violence is all forms of violence against the body. Lighter slapping, hair-pulling and pinching are also physical violence.
  • Psychological violence: Psychological violence includes threatening, frightening, ignoring or locking a child in a room. It also includes calling the child nasty names such as idiot or worthless. Psychological violence can harm a child's self-esteem and development as much as physical violence.
  • Sexual abuse: All sexual acts that occur against a person's will are sexual abuse. A sexual act with a child is always abuse.
  • Forced marriages and child marriages: To force or deceive a child into travelling to another country to get married.
  • Genital mutilation and circumcision of girls and women.
  • Exposing children to crime (barnfridsbrott): It is illegal to expose a child to seeing or hearing certain crimes in an intimate relationship. Children must not have to see or hear assault, threats or sexual abuse between parents, siblings or relatives. This means that violence between parents is also violence against children. The crime is called exposing children to crime, or "barnfridsbrott" in Swedish.
  • Neglectful care of a child: Parents and other guardians may not neglect to provide their child with food, clothes and medical care, for example.

Children want adults to see, ask and act

It is the responsibility of all adults to protect children and ensure that they are not subjected to violence and abuse. All adults have to act if a child is subjected to violence, regardless of whether the violence is physical, psychological, sexual or honour-related.

Anyone who suspects that a child may be coming to harm can contact the social services. This is known as making a notification of concern. It does not mean that you are reporting a parent, for example, but that you are reporting your concern for the child. If staff in preschool, school or medical care services suspect that a child is coming to harm, they are obliged by law to notify the social services.

If you suspect that violence or abuse is going on, you should always report it to the police by phoning 114 14. If someone is in acute danger, phone 112.

Children have the right to privacy

Children are entitled to their privacy. This means, for example:

  • That as a parent you must not read your child's diary, messages on their mobile phone or their online chats.
  • That children must be able to shut a door on those close to them and be left alone.
A child seated at a desk in a room, drawing, with the door shut.

Children have the right to play and to rest and leisure 

Children are entitled to play and to do things they find fun in their free time, such as painting, playing sports, playing a musical instrument, acting on stage or joining an association. 

Children are also entitled to rest. They must have the opportunity to recuperate their energy after school or leisure activities, for example.

Children sometimes help with cooking, looking after younger siblings or doing other tasks within the family and household. But too many heavy and time-consuming household tasks may keep the child from play, rest and leisure.