May 23, 2011

Experts from Sweden and New Zealand warned a pro-family conference of the negative social consequences of universal daycare, anti-spanking laws and legalized prostitution.

Sweden's 30-year experience with a universal daycare system has decreased the psychological health of youth relative to other Nordic countries, said Jonas Himmelstrand, author of Busting the Myths of Swedish Family Policy.

The policy has resulted in increased discipline problems in the schools and academic performance has plummeted, Himmelstrand said. Swedish schools, once ranked at the top, are now ranked among the worst in Europe.

Girls aged 15 to 19 have experienced a 30 per cent increase in mental health problems, he said.


There is even a reality TV program that shows teachers trying to address problem classrooms, he said. He described a Lord of the Flies scenario with bands of teenagers characterized by bullying, gangs, the "flat-lining of culture" and promiscuity.

Himmelstrand spoke at the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC) annual conference in Ottawa May 5.

He blamed the problems on "too little parents and too much daycare." Ninety-two per cent of children from the age of 18 months to five years are in the state's heavily subsidized daycare system.

Instead of developing the necessary psychological attachment to adults, children are raised in large groups of their peers. This impedes child maturation, he said.

The daycare policy has deteriorated the confidence parents have in raising their children as decisions are deferred to the state, he said.

Parents have become "coordinators of activities" rather than mothers and fathers with relationships with their children, and children are suffering because of a lack of attachment to their parents.


For the past 30 years, Sweden has been at the forefront of promoting gender equality, he said. There is no child poverty in Sweden; wealth is evenly distributed; but the taxes are so high that both parents have to work.

The problems youth face cannot be traced to child poverty, he said. Women also report high stress levels and resort to sick leave and early retirement.

Himmelstrand said the grand experiment has been a "great failure." Sweden's workplaces remain among the most gender-segregated in the western world. Most men are employed in business or higher levels of administration, and women work in the daycare industry or health care system.

Sweden outlaws homeschooling, imposing fines of $40,000 on families who teach their children at home, he said. Yet government daycare is also deteriorating, with higher and higher ratios of workers to children.


Even though seven out of 10 mothers would prefer to be home longer with their children, there is little public debate not dominated by feminist ideology, he said. The political ideology has made the upbringing of children a state decision rather than a parental decision based on the needs of the individual child.

New Zealand's social experimentation with legalizing prostitution and criminalizing spanking or "smacking" has also produced adverse unforeseen consequences, according to Greg Fleming, CEO of the Maxim Institute, a public policy think tank.

Brothels have been popping up in residential suburbs, Fleming said. Municipalities can only use their regulatory power to keep them away from schools, but not to prevent their establishment in suburban neighbourhoods.

Fleming challenged the fundamental assumptions that led to the legalization - beliefs that the sex trade has no harmful consequences in itself, and that the dangers of prostitution stemmed from its illegality that forced women to work outside the protection of authorities.


He compared the approach to prostitution to the largely successful campaign against smoking in New Zealand. "It's now okay to buy sex," he said. "You just can't smoke afterwards."

While permissiveness reigns in the sex trade, it is also enforced in the home by the anti-smacking law.

Three hundred families have been prosecuted for "smacking," he said. Even if the charges are eventually dropped or proven false in court, the trauma a family faces begins when the police arrive at the door. The law gives police a wide discretion in whether to prosecute these cases, but this has eroded family confidence in discipline.


Even enforcing a "time out" could potentially run a parent afoul of the law, Fleming said. A recent study showed that a significant proportion of children had threatened their parents with reporting them to authorities.

Fleming noted that similar ideology underlies the anti-smacking law as the one behind the Swedish daycare model.

Children are seen as "little adults" who must be protected against assault. The rights of children are seen not in the context of families must protect and care for them, but as individuals who must be "empowered," he said.

This ideology has a deleterious effect on the rights of families and the care of children. It sees freedom only in the context of the choices of the atomized individual, he said.