UNICEF criticizes government

The Swedish section of the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, has criticised the Swedish government for not guaranteeing by law, the right of children who are here illegally to attend school.

For children from families who are here in Sweden without the necessary permission, there is currently no legal provision which guarantees them the right to attend school. The Swedish section of UNICEF has now grown impatient with the government at what it sees its sluggish pace at introducing reform. Christina Heilborn, a lawyer at UNICEF specialising in the rights of children, told Swedish Radio News that many children are at risk of suffering if something is not done soon.

“Apart from them missing their chance of an education and access to school,” she says, “there can also be serious consequences for a child’s health and psychological development. They often come from families which find themselves in a hopeless situation, with despair, worry and anxiety, and therefore these children need the chance of some breathing space.”

Under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, of which Sweden is a signatory, all children in a country should have the same rights. But UNICEF says that this is not the reality in Sweden.

The question of school access for children with no legal permission to be in Sweden has been discussed several times over the past few years. In 2007 there was a state-led inquiry and two years ago a follow-up inquiry was commissioned. This was concluded last winter and proposed that all children have the right to attend school in Sweden, regardless of whether they come from families without the legal permission to be here.

Education Minister Jan Bjöklund has previously said that new legislation will be introduced which will guarantee such children the right to go to school. But according to UNICEF, too much time has now passed without any action being taken and the organisation is now demanding that the government address the issue. Swedish Radio News reports that Jan Bjöklund was not prepared to comment on the matter.

Child rights lawyer, Christina Heilborn again:

“We had placed our hopes in the latest inquiry which was concluded last year, but as far as I understand it, this has not been prioritised. We are therefore worried that this matter will be allowed to drag on and on before the proposals are put into practice. We want to drive this forward now, so that these children have a legal right to attend school.”