Approximately one in five children in Sweden experiences child sexual abuse (CSA) over the course of their lifetime. In 2022, 9,638 cases of CSA were reported to police, including 4,183 instances of “rape of children,” with girls accounting for 92 percent of victims. Reported instances of “rape of children” have risen by 62 percent between 2013 and 2022, but, as elsewhere, cases of sexual abuse are still thought to be under-reported. The Swedish penal code provides strong provisions against different types of CSA, including sexual coercion and child pornography. The Social Services Act of 2001 outlines the government’s responsibility to provide adequate social services related to preventing and responding to CSA, while the Swedish Care of Young Persons (Special Provisions) Act of 1990 empowered social services to protect children under the age of 21. In 2018, Sweden adjusted the definition of rape to sex without consent, leading to a 75 percent increase in rape convictions. Most recently, Sweden amended national law in 2022 to increase the punishment for sexual crimes such as child molestation.
A number of national-level bodies are responsible for preventing and responding to CSA in Sweden. First and foremost, the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs (MoHSA) oversees social welfare and social services, medical and health care, and the rights of children, including through the National Board of Health and Welfare and the Public Health Agency. The Ministry of Justice directs prosecution and enforcement efforts, including through the Swedish Police Authority and the Public Prosecutor’s Office. Within the Ministry of Employment, the Swedish Gender Equality Agency coordinates government-wide efforts to address gender-based violence, including CSA such as female genital mutilation and honor-related violence and oppression. Municipal and regional bodies also play a role. For example, regional governments are responsible for the provision of health care, while municipal actors support children through activities such as Child Welfare Services (CWS) and the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Service (CAPS). Importantly, Sweden also has a number of national-level strategic plans in place, which include overlapping efforts to address CSA, including An Upbringing Free from Violence: A National Strategy for Preventing and Combating Violence Against Children, published in December 2022, and a 10-year strategy for addressing violence against women and girls, published in 2016 and most recently updated as the Program to Prevent and Combat Men’s Violence against Women 2021–2023.
Sweden’s efforts to address CSA at the national level are encapsulated in the country’s annual national budgets, which in FY 2023 ran more than 2,600 pages. CSA-specific contributions are identifiable intermittently across multiple expenditure areas but are not aggregated in any single location. As noted by Rikard Tordön, an analyst with Barnafrid, Sweden’s national center for knowledge about violence against children, “The problem is that there isn’t a single budget item stating child sexual abuse spending. It is disseminated through many, many channels in the national budget.”
Expenditure Area 9 of the national budget—“Health, Medical, and Social Care”—contains allocations related to the MoHSA and describes various aspects of Sweden’s response to CSA through social and health services. The National Board of Health and Welfare, which is charged with the coordination of efforts across areas like health care, social services, patient safety, and research, is set to grow by 5.3 percent between FY 2021 and FY 2025, and the Public Health Agency, which promotes child health including through furthering freedom from coercion and violence, will see a decrease of 8.3 percent over the same time period. Contributions to “Social services policy”—including social work related to CSA cases—broadly increase over that time period, hitting a peak of SEK 40.4 billion in FY 2023. Finally, the budget line items most specific to children—the “Children’s Ombudsman” and “Children’s rights”—grow by 3.7 percent and fall by 66.4 percent, respectively, over the time period. The Children’s Ombudsman is charged with advancing the rights of children and sees negligible growth between FY 2021 and FY 2025. “Children’s rights”—spending to help realize children’s rights adherent to the Convention on the Rights of the Child—sees erratic funding, going from SEK 125.0 million in FY 2021 to SEK 42.0 million in FY 2025. Although CSA is mentioned numerous times in annual budget documents for FY 2023 and prior years, detailing government efforts on the issue, related budget allocations are not consistently specified; as a result, observers must refer to higher-level line items in which funding for countering CSA is not clearly distinguishable on an annual basis.
CSA-Relevant Spending within Expenditure Area 9: Health, Medical, and Social Care
Data Source: FY 2023 Budget.
Sweden’s national government also designates important allocations to CSA through Expenditure Area 4, which corresponds to the country’s judicial system. Most prominently, that includes the Swedish Police Authority, which investigates and apprehends perpetrators in cases of CSA, and the Prosecutor’s Office, which leads efforts to prosecute offenders and ensure justice for survivors. The FY 2023 budget specifically notes the two agencies’ “long-term collaboration on issues related to internet-related sexual abuse of children” but does not specify the total scope of spending related to CSA. Other parts of the judiciary that are relevant to CSA cases include the National Council for Crime Prevention, the National Board of Forensic Medicine, and the Crime Victim Authority. For example, the Crime Victim Authority assists in developing knowledge related to children who have experienced violence. Notably, funding for these various judicial categories increases between FY 2021 and FY 2025. (See Figure 2.) However, in the absence of a systematic breakdown of CSA-related spending, it is difficult to discern the proportion of budgetary allocations that is actually devoted to CSA.
CSA-Relevant Spending within Expenditure Area 4: The Judiciary
Data Source: FY 2023 Budget.
Another government entity that plays an important role in preventing and responding to CSA is the Swedish Gender Equality Agency, established in 2018. As part of its work to address gender equality across the Swedish government, the agency includes ending violence against women and girls among its six objective areas. The FY 2023 budget specifies the agency’s role in activities to detect violence, develop legislation, refer survivors to social services, and provide health care and judicial support to survivors, as well as a focus on “honour-related violence and oppression,” which touches on issues such as child marriage, female genital mutilation, and sexual coercion. Spending for the agency appears under Expenditure Area 13—“Equality and the Establishment of Newly Arrived Immigrants”—and is relatively stagnant between FY 2021 and FY 2025.
Sweden Gender Equality Agency — Expenditure Area 13: Equality and the Establishment of Newly Arrived Immigrants
Data Source: FY 2023 Budget.
There are a few additional areas of the national budget that are relevant to CSA, including Expenditure Area 17: “Culture, media, religious communities and leisure” and Expenditure Area 25: “General municipal subsidies.” Several allocations within Expenditure Area 17 relate to tackling online CSA, including through campaigns on online harassment and abuse and parenting techniques, as well as other programming to support children’s health development through safe and supportive leisure activities. Expenditure Area 25 focuses on redistribution of resources to support financially weaker municipalities, including through targeted subsidies for activities such as “Sheltered living for violence-exposed women and children,” which totals SEK 145.0 million in FY 2023 and SEK 321.0 million ongoing from FY 2024.
Elsewhere, Sweden’s various national strategies and agendas related to CSA offer greater insight into allocations to address CSA than is typically detailed in the national budget. For example, the Program to Prevent and Combat Men’s Violence against Women 2021–2023 includes specific allocations for FY 2021–23 and beyond pursuant to several of the areas mentioned above. (See Figure 4.) This includes SEK 350.0 million in FY 2022 and FY 2023 to broadly “Combat men’s violence against women” as well as more focused allocations, such as SEK 150.0 million per year ongoing for “State grants to women’s and girls’ emergency services” starting in FY 2022, and targeted funding for research on “Men’s violence against women, violent and sexual crimes against children and other vulnerable crime victims, honor-related violence and oppression, violence in young relationships and oppression.”
CSA-Related Contributions Within the Program to Prevent and Combat Men’s Violence against Women 2021–2023
In 2021, the government commissioned a special investigation to create a national strategy to combat violence against children (VAC), culminating in An Upbringing Free from Violence: A National Strategy for Preventing and Combating Violence Against Children. The 1,200-page report is organized around five strategic objectives: (1) preventing VAC, including CSA; (2) detecting VAC cases; (3) providing adequate protection, support, and treatment; (4) respecting children’s rights during criminal proceedings; and (5) strengthening knowledge related to VAC. The report creates a roadmap for better addressing VAC, including through legal reforms, preventative action, and an expanded knowledge base, as specified in 23 assessments and 59 proposals. While it does not specify a whole-of-government spending approach related to VAC or CSA, it does make specific recommendations about future allocations. For example, in pursuit of “knowledge about the methods and ways of working that are effective in preventing and combating violence against children,” the strategy recommends a total investment of SEK 1.0 billion over the strategy’s time frame. Likewise, it recommends SEK 100.0 million per year for three years to aid municipal and regional entities in reaching the strategy’s goals, as well as SEK 30.0 million per year for the Public Health Agency, which it has selected as well suited to play a central coordinating role for the plan. Budgets for future years will help illustrate the government’s efforts to adopt these recommendations, but the degree to which this guidance will amount to further spending on the issue is currently unclear.
Sweden’s reputation as a world leader in preventing and responding to CSA is borne out by research conducted for Safeguarding Childhood, but work still needs to be done to illustrate this action from a budgetary perspective. For example, while Sweden publishes heavily detailed budget documents, it is not always possible to distinguish contributions specific to CSA. While it is clear that there are well-funded and important government entities working on issues related to CSA—such as the Swedish Gender Equality Agency and the Child’s Ombudsman—their funding is not typically specified in sufficient detail to allow observers to distinguish between CSA-focused programming and other activities. This is somewhat expected, given the need to connect CSA services to broader child-protection initiatives, but at the same time, this makes it difficult to distinguish budgetary contributions that are specific to the issue.
Experts have noted that establishing a clear picture of budgeting is further complicated by the range of entities, from the local to national level, that play roles in responding to CSA. Britta Holmberg, deputy secretary of the World Childhood Foundation, noted that “a lot of the support and work to protect and empower children and prevent child sexual abuse and exploitation is there to a certain level, but there are also very clear gaps. . . . There is a strong sense that each municipality is independent, which makes it even more complicated to follow budgeting.” To some degree, Sweden also suffers from coordination problems among these entities. As Rikard Tordön, of Barnafrid, put it, “The key issue is the lack of legislation and routines in order to cooperate efficiently among civil organizations, schools, social services, health care, police, prosecutor offices, and so on.”
“The key issue is the lack of legislation and routines in order to cooperate efficiently among civil organizations, schools, social services, health care, police, prosecutor offices, and so on.”
Rikard Tordön, an analyst with Barnafrid, Sweden’s national center for knowledge about violence against children
Nevertheless, Sweden stands out among the case studies analyzed for this project because there is evidence of budgetary contributions that are strongly relevant to CSA, even if they are not always systematically traceable over the long term. For example, the Program to Prevent and Combat Men’s Violence against Women 2021–2023 specifies budgetary allocations to specific CSA-related priorities such as emergency services for women and girls and funding for research into violence against women and children over a three-year window. The National Strategy for Preventing and Combating Violence Against Children is likewise promising in that it contains exhaustive detail about furthering Sweden’s efforts to respond to and prevent CSA, including lofty budgetary goals, such as devoting SEK 1.0 billion to furthering knowledge related to VAC. One positive next step would be to systematically track and describe follow-through to meet these spending goals over longer time frames (e.g., over the next five to ten years), including more granular and consistent tracking of allocations through the relevant implementing entities for the plan. At the national level, that would help illuminate the structure of Sweden’s world-leading efforts in the issue space, while the government could also strive to aggregate and centralize spending from the local and regional levels—deriving a complete picture of the successes of, and remaining gaps in, Sweden’s efforts to respond to and prevent CSA.