The Swedish myth: The corporal punishment ban and child death statistics

Chris Beckett

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16 Citations (Scopus)


Sweden is widely believed to have an exceptionally low incidence of child maltreatment deaths. Since Sweden is also the first country to have outlawed all forms of corporal punishment, proponents of a total ban on corporal punishment, in the UK and elsewhere,have argued that this demonstrates that such a ban prevents fatal child abuse. While not taking sides on the corporal punishment issue, this paper demonstrates that the argument is misleading on several counts. The available evidence suggests that Sweden has a low, though not uniquely low, incidence of child maltreatment deaths. Widely cited statistics suggesting that Sweden is in an entirely different league from other countries are, however, seriously misleading. Nor does the evidence really allow us to conclude that Sweden’s relative success in this area is attributable to the ban on corporal punishment. Other countries without a corporal punishment ban also have low or lower child maltreatment death rates; the figures that are commonly cited in any case pre-date Sweden’s corporal punishment ban and there are a number of other important variables, other than a ban on corporal punishment, that could account for international variations. The article concludes with some thoughts about the selective use of evidence in debates of this kind.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-138
Number of pages14
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Issue number1
Early online date10 Jan 2005
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2005

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