We first learned about the work Giorgio Mazzoli, Legal Officer, United Nations ADF International is doing and the expression of concern via this video recording and subsequently the following later. We valued the opportunity to field him questions about the advocacy work of ADF International particularly as relates to educational rights in the Nordics.
THRIVE Nordics: How did ADF International’s concern with the current situation with home schooling in Sweden begin?
Giorgio: Children deserve the loving care and protection of their parents. The freedom of parents to raise and educate their children in line with their religious, philosophical, and pedagogical convictions is a core part of ADF International’s legal advocacy work. Since the entry into force of the Education Act in 2011, Sweden has implemented a de facto ban on homeschooling by allowing parents to educate their children at home only under “exceptional circumstances”. This is clearly in contrast with international law. Such restrictions have put families in the dreadful position of choosing between renouncing a fundamental human right and leaving the country to pursue the schooling option they deem best for their children. The Petersens are among the several homeschooling families who were left with no option other than to flee Sweden after local authorities and lower courts denied them permission to teach their 8-year-old daughter at home. On the other hand, parents who are not willing to abandon homeschooling are threatened with the forced removal of their children by the social services, as well as the imposition of harsh fines.
As part of our ongoing advocacy for parental rights in Sweden and across the world, ADF International has provided legal assistance to the Petersens and other similar cases, working with partners in and outside of Sweden in support of these families and their struggle to affirm their rights.
THRIVE Nordics: Does ADF International work with other bodies or individuals in other Nordic countries with similar issues?
Giorgio: As a legal advocacy organization with a global reach, ADF International is privileged to work with a network of 3,400 lawyers from six continents. In the Nordic countries, the obstacles to parental rights vary greatly according to each country; however, they share similar dynamics. In addition to challenging the Swedish de facto ban on homeschooling, we have also been active in raising issues with the way the Norwegian child welfare services continue to overreach into family life. Most recently, we intervened in a case at the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights which agreed that Norway had violated the European Convention on Human Rights in taking a three-week-old child away from his mother based on doubts about her parenting abilities after she had requested support.
THRIVE Nordics: From ADF International’s understanding, why has home schooling become so restricted (nearly impossible) in Sweden?
Giorgio: The quality and supposed objectivity of the Swedish public education system is considered by the government a valid and sufficient reason to deny families the choice to homeschool based on their religious or philosophical views. However, the liberty of parents to make such a fundamental choice for their children’s future is not subject to, or conditional on the educational offer of government-sanctioned schools. On the contrary, international law clearly requires states to respect the “prior” right of parents to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children, and to ensure that such education conforms to their own religious, moral, philosophical, or pedagogical convictions. Furthermore, research demonstrates that home-schooled children tend to outperform their public school counterparts: why would anyone wish to deprive children of better learning opportunities if parents are willing and able to provide them?
Of course parental rights – including homeschooling – are not absolute, and the state does indeed have a duty to protect children in the event that parents fail to uphold their basic responsibilities towards them, including [when it comes to protecting] their right to education. But to presumptively ban home education based on the assumption that parents are generally unable to decide what is in their children’s best interest is unjust and a human rights violation.
THRIVE Nordics: If you could recommend to authorities in Sweden a way to change course with regards to this issue and allow families who want to provide home schooling to their children, what would your recommendation be?
Giorgio: International law recognizes the right of parents to choose the upbringing and education of their children. This must be guaranteed to all parents who wish to have their children educated at home. The only “exceptional circumstance” under which homeschooling should be prohibited is where there is clear evidence that the parents are failing to provide an adequate education for their children.