Swedish family policies are lauded for enabling women to go to work as well as have children. Sweden has one of the highest fertility rates in Europe. What you can do with your children once you have them, however, is not altogether a matter of choice.
You can put them in a free kindergarten, costing $20,000 per child a year, from the time they are one year old, but if you wanted to look after them yourself at home you would be pretty much on your own. Homecare allowances are small and few and far between.
And if you want to educate your child at home, you are in real trouble. Home-schooling is banned in the Scandinavian utopia and families who defy the ban are feeling the full force of the law. Several families have gone into exile in neighbouring countries (which allow home-schooling) as a result, and a handful living on the Finnish Aland Islands were joined in early February by the most high-profile home-schooling dissident yet -- President of the Swedish Association for Home Education (ROHUS), Jonas Himmelstrand, his wife and three children.
For more than three years Mr Himmelstrand and his wife have had a conflict with the Uppsala municipality over educating their daughter (now 13) then their younger son (7) at home. After two years they were able to appeal to a court, but while the court decision was pending, the civic authorities continued what Mr Himmelstrand calls a “political persecution” of his family. In November they were reported to the local “social authorities” and, around Christmas, received notice of fines -- US$25,000 for their daughter’s non-attendance at school in the 2010-2011 year, and $15,000 for not enrolling their son for the current school year.
The recent punitive action occurred after Mr Himmelstrand debated home education on national radio with the chair of the Education Committee of the Swedish Parliament. Coincidence? It also came at the end of a year in which he spoke internationally about Swedish family policies, presenting a critical view based on his research for the Swedish family association, Haro.
The social authority decided not to investigate the family but told Mr Himmelstrand that if he wanted to home educate safely he should leave Sweden. Staring financial ruin in the face and refusal on the part of the authorities to discuss the issues with them, the family quietly left Sweden in early February.
”It is an incredible relief, and only now are we starting to understand the degree of pressure we have lived under for many years”, says Jonas Himmelstrand. ”At the same time it is an almost surreal experience to be forced to leave Sweden for an issue which in most of the democratic world, and by the UN, is regarded as a human right.”
He is vowing to continue the work of ROHUS. ”In fact, we will be more effective when we do not feel our families are under threat.”
Home education is regarded by the UN as a valid form of education under the concept of ”the right of education”. Home education is permitted in most of the world’s democracies with the exception of Germany (under their school law of 1938) and now Sweden.