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THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD

Sweden has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child from 1989 (UNICEF 2015), but this convention has still not been integrated into Swedish law.

In many ways, the Swedish juvenile justice system adapted to meet the special needs of children. It could, therefore, be argued that the system meets many of the Convention’s requirements—though not all of these requirements.

While Sweden’s legislation makes very clear distinctions between the way the justice system deals with cases involving young offenders versus adult offenders, young offenders are nonetheless processed by the same judicial bodies as their adult counterparts. There have, however, been changes in some areas that represent a move in the required direction. Up until the introduction of the Youth Custody Act LSU, (Lag 1998:603 see later), the few custodial sentences imposed on youths aged 15-17 were served in the same prison institutions as adult offenders. Since Sweden had been subject to criticism for incarcerating youths and adults in the same prisons, the aforementioned reform constituted an, albeit incomplete, adaptation to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. At the same time, since the current legislation still allows for the possibility of sentencing youths aged 15-17 to prison (although this only happens in exceptional cases), there are still youths serving custodial sentences in the same prison institutions as adult offenders.

The most controversial issue in relation to the requirements of the Convention on the Rights of the Child is the way in which Sweden deals with youths who are in pre-trial custody. As previously discussed, youths under the age of 15 cannot be convicted of offenses and thus cannot be held on remand either (although they can, when necessary, be taken into compulsory care). Youths aged 15-17 are, however, permitted to be held in police custody and in remand centres if there is exceptional cause to do so (SFS 2015:446). According to an investigation conducted by the Swedish Ombudsman for Children (2013), a total 3052 youths aged 15-17 were admitted to remand centres/police custody in 2011. Approximately half of these admissions were the result of offending, while the remainder of the admissions were due to drunkenness or other reasons. According to the same report, the number of children admitted to remand centres/police custody has increased somewhat over recent years.

The report of the Ombudsman for Children is highly critical of the Swedish system of holding children in remand centres/police custody. This criticism relates to a number of different factors. The report highlights that there are no official statistics on the number of children held in these forms of custody, the length of time they are held in custody, or the reasons they have been arrested or placed on remand. The Ombudsman for Children report also argues that these forms of custody are used too often in relation to children, and that the periods they spend in custody are too long. Particularly severe criticism is directed towards the conditions under which children are held in remand centres/police custody. In many cases, these conditions are no different from those under which adults are held. These conditions may thus involve severe restrictions on the individual’s contacts with the outside world. According to the Ombudsman’s report, this can cause serious damage to the children. The Ombudsman argues that these conditions are in conflict with the requirements of Convention on the Rights of the Child, and that they equate to torture.

It is also worth noting that a range of criticisms have also been directed at Sweden’s remand regulations in relation to adults. The periods that adults are required to spend on remand are regarded as being very long, and it is relatively easy for prosecutors to obtain the consent of the courts to impose restrictions on remand prisoners’ contacts with the outside world. These restrictions may also be in force for very long periods of time. Sweden has also been criticised in this regard by the UN Committee against Torture (United Nations 2014).

 
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