Migrant families in Sweden accuse social services of 'kidnapping' their children

Our Observer is a lawyer specialised in family law in Sweden.
Our Observer is a lawyer specialised in family law in Sweden. © France24

Throughout February, dozens of parents from the Middle East and Africa took to the streets in Sweden to protest against the country's child protection services. This movement was sparked after videos denouncing alleged "kidnappings" of children from foreign families were posted on social media. This atmosphere of mistrust worries our Observer, a lawyer specialised in family law.


What these families have in common is that they all lost custody of their children, who were placed in foster care by the Swedish child welfare authorities on the grounds that they had been abused. Mothers and fathers demonstrated in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö in February to demand the return of their children, accusing the authorities of abusing of their power.

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"I have lived in Sweden for seven years. They took my daughter three years ago. I have all the evidence, videos, court papers, that I am not a violent father," said a father during a rally on February 13 in Gothenburg.

Some of the parents have claimed that their children were taken away from them because they are Muslim. Some parents have also accused foster families of paedophilia, or of forcing their children to eat pork. These comments, which are difficult to verify, were spread on social media with the hashtag "Stop kidnapping our children".

Adhar Alak is a family lawyer in Malmö, Sweden. She explains what Swedish law says about children whose situation is deemed to be at risk.

Of course, I don't want to use the word 'kidnapping' because it's a placement of the child until the situation in the family is no longer dangerous. The law also guarantees a lawyer for the father and mother, and a lawyer for the child.  It is possible to appeal against the decision to the administrative court and then to the Supreme Court.

The Child Protection Act, known as the "LVU", is considered to be among the strictest in Sweden. It allows the social services to request the temporary placement of a child, particularly in cases of physical or psychological abuse, but also if the parents are struggling to support the child. But before taking this extreme measure, the child protection services must follow certain steps, said Adhar Alak.

If the parents agree to cooperate with the social services, placement with a family that is part of the child's social fabric, such as an aunt or uncle, may be preferred.

In Sweden, school and hospital staff and even neighbours are obliged by law to report any suspicion of child abuse to the social services, who will investigate if necessary. 

Adhar Alak is concerned about the lack of trust between these foreign families and the Swedish authorities:

What I would also like to say is that there is often a lack of trust between the authorities and migrant parents. And this latest campaign risks aggravating this gap.

The Swedish Foreign Ministry reacted on Twitter, denouncing "a disinformation campaign".

Videos shared with the hashtag "Stop kidnapping our children", showing crying children being torn away from their parents or taken by force from school by the social services, have aroused a lot of emotion on social networks. Several of the videos, which the Observers were able to verify, have nothing to do with Sweden, and were filmed in other countries such as the Netherlands.

One of the videos, falsely presented as showing the abduction of children by social services, has been shared many times on Twitter. It shows a security guard violently tackling a child to the ground. But it was actually an arrest of a child by a security guard from 2015.

Adhar Alak notes, however, that in some cases families from the Middle East are "unwelcome and prejudiced by employees of the social services administration".  

Finally, the Imam Council of Sweden has called on imams to "do everything possible to counter the spread of hateful rhetoric", while calling for investigations of social service officials suspected of abuse.