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The work of public authorities in different countries to protect children against harmful treatment are regularly debated internationally, sometimes with critical commentary on how the Nordic countries work to ensure the rights of children for protection.

During one week in August 2018 practitioners, researchers, nongovernmental organisations and decision-makers from throughout the Nordic region gathered in the Faroe Islands to take part in the Nordic Association for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect’s (NASPCAN) conference under the theme “Best Interests of the Child: Rhetoric or Reality”. The association celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. The conference was the 10th Nordic biennial organised by the association as a platform for collaboration and exchange of knowledge and experiences among professionals in the field. The association’s activities are based on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Nordic countries are leaders when it comes to children’s human rights. Legislation in all the Nordic countries completely forbids all forms of violence against children. The population in the Nordic countries has a low tolerance for the use of violence in raising children. The Nordic countries were also among the first in the world to ratify the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child. Over the years we have seen how the rights of children and young people with respect to violence, sexual assault and neglect have been scrutinised, clarified and strengthened in all the Nordic countries. For example, some Nordic countries have incorporated the Convention on the Rights of the Child into national law. Compared with much of the rest of the world, a low percentage of children and young people in the Nordic region report being subjected to violence and abuse, and child mortality as a result of violence is low. This is a development that we are proud of and that we want to continue.

We regularly see that our systems and policies for protecting children are called into question in the media. Criticism brought out in these discussions can be both relevant and justified. We know that decisions can be made with insufficient documentation. We must make a constant effort to see that our systems ensure that children’s rights are respected and that we conduct our work in a legally sound way. At the same time, we want to listen to relevant and justified criticism to further improve the Nordic model, which aims to avoid and prevent violence against children. The governing principles in this model are the best interests of the child. Under no circumstances shall those principles be undermined and discarded.

In comparison with other countries’ legal practices, norms and values regarding views of children, childhood and upbringing, the ‘Nordic model’ can be perceived as too far-reaching in its efforts to prevent violence, to protect and to help vulnerable children. However, we are firm in our conviction, which was formalised with the formation of our association 20 years ago. Children have the right to unconditional protection against all forms of violence, abuse and neglect. Even though our countries have developed strong safeguards to ensure this compared to other countries, children are let down all too often. This is something we will continue to work on in the years to come until all children in our countries receive what they are entitled to: a safe childhood free from all forms of violence, abuse and neglect.

Board of NASPCAN