There are more than two million children in Sweden, i.e. people under the age of 18. Their lives include many benefits – not only free schooling and fast internet connection, but also access to organisations that protect children’s rights.
Growing up in Sweden
Around one-fifth of Sweden’s 10 million inhabitants are under 18. Swedish law ensures that children are well protected and their rights are defended. There are also various organisations dedicated to the wellbeing of young people.
In 1993, the Swedish Government appointed an ombudsman to protect children’s rights and look after their interests. The Ombudsman for Children in Sweden is obliged to follow the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and enforce it in Swedish society. Sweden was one of the first countries to sign up. Sweden has decided to incorporate the UN Convention into Swedish law from 1 January 2020.
In 1979, Sweden became the first country to ban corporal punishment of children. By introducing a ban in the Parent Code, which is a civil code, Swedish law explicitly states that parents cannot use any form of violence or other humiliating treatment as part of bringing up their children. The aim was not to criminalise parents, but rather to change attitudes. Having said that, beating or spanking a child is also a criminal offence according to the Swedish Criminal Code.
Help and support
There are many organisations that young people in Sweden can turn to if they need help. Children’s Rights in Society (BRIS) offers support services such as telephone helplines, chat and email counselling. In 2013 BRIS had a total of 19,173 counselling contacts with children and teenagers.
Friends is an organisation dedicated to stamping out bullying, mainly in schools but also outside – during organised sports activities, for example. Since being set up in 1997, Friends has co-operated with about 1,500 schools.
Save the Children Sweden (in Swedish) is another organisation that defends the rights of children. It has more than 75,000 members.
Some 90 per cent of children in Sweden start off living with their mother and father, who may or may not be married and tend to have one or two children on average. But separation is not unusual. Today 74 per cent of children under 18 live with both their birth parents, while 27 per cent have a stepfather or stepmother.
About one in five children in Sweden has a family with roots in another country. Most children living in Sweden who were born abroad, or whose parents were born abroad, come from Iraq, Somalia, Poland or Thailand. About 14,000 of these children were adopted from another country. Almost 60 per cent of children live in detached houses, 28 per cent live in blocks of flats and 12 per cent live in row houses.
Eighty-one per cent of all children have a mother who goes out to work, and 92 per cent have fathers with jobs. Each set of parents gets 480 days of paid parental leave per child, which must be claimed before the child turns eight. Most parental leave is taken by mothers, but fathers are spending an increasing amount of time at home with their children. Men now claim about 24 per cent of all parental leave taken.
Hobbies and pastimes
Like most children the world over, Swedish children enjoy listening to music and hanging out with friends. They are also encouraged to focus on their interests. Singing and playing a musical instrument are popular extra-curricular activities. Twenty-nine per cent of girls and 26 per cent of boys aged 13-15 play an instrument in their spare time. Everyone is encouraged to take up sport, and 68 per cent of 13- to 15-year-olds are members of a sports club. Soccer is the most popular sport among both girls and boys. Then comes horseriding for girls. Boys prefer floorball, followed by swimming and ice hockey. The sports interest goes all the way to the top; Sweden is number seven on the Olympic medal score list.
Internet and TV
Young Swedes surf the internet as much as they watch TV. Almost a third of all 13- to 15-year-olds watch TV at least three hours a day. Just as many 12- to 16-year-olds spend as much time surfing the internet. Half of all four-year-olds have browsed the internet. Online TV sites and YouTube are among the most popular, but what children do online depends on their age and gender. Doing school work, blogging, chatting and using social-networking sites and smartphone applications are the most common pastimes among older children. Younger children are more into games.
With free spirits such as Pippi Longstocking and Emil to inspire them in books and films, Swedish children are encouraged to think independently and question societal norms.
What young Swedes watch
Swedish directors making movies for young people do not shy away from difficult subjects. The Ice Dragon (Isdraken, 2012) by Martin Högdahl and Håkan Bjerking is about 11-year-old Mik who is left with his hippie aunt in the country when his father, a hard-rock musician, is admitted to a treatment home for alcoholics.
Lisa Siwe’s Glowing Stars (I taket lyser stjärnorna, 2009), based on Johanna Thydell’s award-winning novel, is about a 14-year-old torn between caring for her mother, who has cancer, and her desire for a normal teenage life.
But Swedish films for young audiences do not address heavy topics alone. Kenny Begins (2009), by Carl Åstrand and Mats Lindberg, is a comedy about a boy who wants to become a galaxy superhero while his parents think he should become a hairdresser and work in the family beauty salon.
What young Swedes read
Astrid Lindgren — creator of Pippi Longstocking, Emil, Karlsson-on-the-Roof and numerous other story-book characters — is the most-read children’s author in Sweden. Her books are more widespread than any other Swedish author’s. Having been translated into more than 90 languages, 145 million of her books have been sold globally. Many have been turned into films or plays.
Gunilla Bergström wanted to write about real life, and created a little boy, Alfie Atkins (Alfons Åberg), as her main character. She describes the stories as mini-dramas on the psychological level. Making mischief, being frightened of ghosts, missing a friend, getting into fights, Christmas being over… they cover the sorts of things any child can relate to. The series includes more than 23 titles so far, published in 29 languages.
Sven Nordqvist’s Pettsson and Findus stories and Anders Jacobsson’s and Sören Olsson’s Sune books are widely read, too. Martin Widmark’s JerryMaya (Lasse Maja) series has been translated into 19 languages. His books have become bestsellers and are also among the most popular of all the children’s fiction housed in Sweden’s libraries at the moment.
The average price of a printed book in Sweden is about SEK 120 (EUR 12). Sweden has a lower tax rate for printed books and audio books – 6 per cent instead of 25 per cent.
Photo: Lina Roos/
Swedish schools are working with a variety of organisations to encourage young people’s interest in technology and entrepreneurship. Here are two examples:
A teaching method designed to awaken a desire for knowledge in school children, Finn upp (Invent) encourages them to invent things to help them learn. A Finn upp competition is held every three years for young inventors in grades 6 to 9. The event aims to inspire a new generation of inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs, and release the power of fresh ideas. Finn upp was founded in 1979 by the Swedish Society of Engineers (Ingenjörsamfundet).
The Flashes of Genius (Snilleblixtarna), a non-profit association, is geared to children from pre-school age to fifth grade. The aim is to encourage children’s interest in technology, the natural sciences and entrepreneurship. Snilleblixtarna provides teachers and educators with tools and a working model to stimulate children’s curiosity, desire to learn and ability to think critically.
- The Ombudsman for Children in Sweden
- UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
- Children’s Rights in Society (BRIS)
- Save the Children Sweden (in Swedish)
- The Skogsmulle Foundation (in Swedish)
- The Guides and Scouts of Sweden
- The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency
- Tom Tits Experiment – a science centre for children
Please note that this web version of ‘Children in Sweden’ may have been updated more recently than the pdf versions.