Proposal: "prison-style" frisking for children in Swedish care homes

The Swedish government wants children and teenagers living in care homes to undergo routine body searches, without any particular suspicion or justification.

The frisking would not have to be recorded in the person's journal, according to the proposal, which is copied from prison legislation.

Cautious observers note that the system could be abused if the requirement to write down and thereby explain the need for the search is not included.

"It also removes the possibility in the future to check whether it's been done in a correct manner," says children's ombudsman Fredrik Malmberg to Swedish Radio.

"It opens the door to abuse," he adds.

Sweden has special homes for children as young as eleven. Not all residents have committed crimes, others have been taken into care for other reasons.

The government proposal is now being examined by legal experts. It draws on the existing prison legislation which has made body searches a routine safety element.

The young residents would not have the right to oppose a body search.

Staff would also be able to go through the children's rooms.

Children and Youth Minister Maria Larsson says such searches already take place at the state institutions.

"We didn't have the legislation to back it up", she says, "so now we are proposing a law that permits it, because we want to guarantee safety and make sure they don't harm themselves or others."

She says "practical, administrative problems" could stand in the way of recording the searches, but conceded it could pose its own problems to not have a note of why they were taking place.

"This is why we've sent the proposal to be examined by legal experts, and we're awaiting their views," she says.

Today, Maria Moraes works as a lecturer but as a child she herself spent time in youth homes. She does not share the minister's view that keeping a record of the searches is difficult.

"I've read my own journals from the homes where I lived. And everything is annotated, what I got up to, what I talked to other residents about, if I ate properly, whether I tidied my room," she says.

"If you can document stuff like that, why can't you note down when staff decide to search you, when another person is touching your body and going through your clothes?" she asks.

"It's absurd."