GENEVA (8 June 2016) - The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights today concluded its consideration of the sixth periodic report of Sweden on its implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Introducing the report, Pernilla Baralt, State Secretary to the Minister of Children, Elderly and Gender Equality, Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, said that following the change of government in September 2014, important reforms were underway in the areas of the labour market, education, climate change and equal opportunities. Over the past eight years, social and economic gaps had widened and the Government was determined to change this and build a Sweden where everyone – women and men, girls and boys, persons with different abilities - could participate and contribute, and to invest in and develop the Swedish welfare model. Sweden stood up for the international right of asylum, and for solidarity and burden sharing in the response to the global refugee crisis, and welcomed more than 160,000 asylum seekers in 2015. Despite challenges, Sweden saw in them a great opportunity for the country, which needed the potential and skills that refugees brought with them. In order to address racism and hate crimes, a national plan was being developed which would focus on racism in general and on its different forms including Afrophobia, anti-Semitism, antiziganism, islamophobia, homo- and transphobia and racism against Sami people. Jobs and income were crucial for economic, social and cultural rights and for integration, and policies, special measures and resources were in place to combat unemployment, in particular of youth and persons with disabilities.
In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts expressed appreciation for the solidarity that the Swedish people had demonstrated in welcoming the unprecedented number of refugees and asylum seekers who arrived in 2015 and inquired about measures in place to ensure the enjoyment and protection of their economic, social and cultural rights. They reiterated concerns by several international bodies in relation to the protection of the indigenous Sami population, and asked about the timeline for the adoption of the Nordic Sami Convention which Sweden had been discussing for almost 20 years, about the ways to increase the power and capacities of the Sami Parliament, and the system in place to protect the Sami way of life and culture from the ever-growing mining operations in their traditional areas. Experts expressed appreciation for Sweden as a social welfare State and a gender equality pioneer, and inquired about strategies to close the gender pay gap, further increase the participation of women in decision-making in listed companies, and address involuntary part-time work by women. Employment was still an issue of concern, particularly in relation to young people, persons with disabilities and foreign-born women. Experts asked if Sweden would broaden grounds for discrimination in its legislation and include an exhaustive list of grounds, and also whether the definition of rape would be revised to also include the lack of consent.
In concluding remarks, Zdzislaw Kedzia, Member of the Committee and Rapporteur for the report of Sweden, agreed that the review process was an opportunity to enrich the mutual understanding of economic, social and cultural rights and their implementation. Sweden had set the bar very high and legitimate expectations were at a level that would be unrealistic for many other States.
In her closing remarks, Ms. Baralt summarized the Government’s approach which was at the basis of the progress achieved: a reality check of the situation and what must be done, representation and listening to people, and allocation of resources to policies assessed for impact. Paraphrasing Pippi Longstocking, she said that Sweden was indeed strong and would be very kind to all the people in the society who were not yet fully realizing their rights.
The delegation of Sweden consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Education and Research, Ministry of Employment, Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation, Ministry of Finance, and the Permanent Mission of Sweden to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will meet in public at 3 p.m. today, 8 June, to start its consideration of the second periodic report of Honduras (E/C.12/HND/2).
The country reviews can be watched via live webcast at http://www.treatybodywebcast.org.
The sixth periodic report of Sweden can be read via the following link: E/C.12/SWE/6.
Presentation of the Report
PERNILLA BARALT, State Secretary to the Minister of Children, Elderly and Gender Equality, Ministry of Health and Social Affairs of Sweden, introducing the report, highlighted recent developments in the implementation of the International Covenant in Sweden and the key priorities of the social-democrat green government which had entered office in September 2014. Important reforms were underway in the areas of the labour market, education, climate change and equal opportunities. Over the last years, social and economic gaps had widened and the Government was determined to change this and build a Sweden where everyone – women and men, girls and boys, persons with different abilities - could participate and contribute, to invest in and develop the Swedish welfare model. The Swedish government was a feminist government and it meant that it wanted to achieve gender equality, both in national and international work. Women and men must have equal power to shape society and their own lives. It was a question of rights, representation and resources, and that was why Sweden had introduced gender budgeting in its national budget procedure, which would present new policy on gender equality this autumn. In order to strengthen the systematic work on human rights, the Government would deliver a human rights strategy which would propose to Parliament that it establish an independent national human rights institution in conformity with the Paris Principles. International cooperation was crucial to strengthening economic, social and cultural rights and even though the world faced many challenges, there was now a common and universal development agenda to gather around: the 2030 Agenda. The global crisis of the refugee situation required a response built on solidarity and burden sharing. Sweden had received more than 160,000 asylum applicants in 2015, of which about 35,000 were unaccompanied minors. Sweden stood up for the international right of asylum and knew that it posed challenges to the country but was also a great opportunity for the country, which needed the potential and skills of the people who had recently arrived. The priority was to ensure that they could all be established in the society as quickly as possible, which was crucial for successful integration and a positive social and economic development.
There was a need to secure the rights of national minorities who must be able to attain equal rights and opportunities. The review of the Act on National Minorities and National Minority Languages was currently being prepared. A national plan against racism and hate crimes would be presented and would focus on racism in general and on different forms of racism such as afrophobia, anti-Semitism, antiziganism, islamophobia, homo- and transphobia and racism against Sami people. Another area where further efforts were required was violence against women, and the new national strategy in this area, which would focus on prevention measures, was under preparation. To have a job and income was crucial for economic, social and cultural rights and for integration. Sweden believed that no one should begin their adult life in unemployment and had set the goal to have the lowest unemployment in the European Union by 2020. The priority would be combatting youth unemployment and in particular unemployment of youth with disabilities. Education was crucial and Sweden had undertaken a number of initiatives to strengthen the quality of education and to make it more equal, including early interventions to ensure that no child was left behind, including children with disabilities. This was the time when all countries had to return to core values of humanism, democracy, and inclusion, and for this, access to information and culture was fundamental. Equal access to shared cultural heritage should be seen as a democratic right and that was why admission to most of the State museums had been free since February 2015.
Questions by the Committee Experts
ZDZISLAW KEDZIA, Member of the Committee and Rapporteur for the report of Sweden, congratulated Sweden on a number of achievements in the areas related to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, including for being a forerunner of the welfare State, and also congratulated it on the increase of official development assistance from 1.01 per cent of the gross national income to 1.10 per cent, representing the largest increase in the European Union and much larger than the Monterrey target of 0.7 per cent. Sweden had a dualistic system of law, which required that international treaties must either be transformed into Swedish legislation or incorporated through a special enactment in order to become applicable. The Committee considered the transformation or incorporation of the Covenant’s rights into domestic law an important premise for not only giving full effect to the rights, but also to making the international standards a point of reference for the legislative and the judiciary. What was preventing Sweden from transforming the Covenant standards into the domestic legal order, in conformity with the dualistic system of law?
The Swedish Constitution addressed rights in economic, social and cultural areas in a rather selected and limited way, especially in comparison with the comprehensive constitutional guarantees of civil and political rights. The Committee Rapporteur asked for the interpretation of Article 2 of the Constitution concerning State Goals, which referred, among others, to the right to employment, housing, and education and promoted social care and social security, as well as favourable conditions for good health. Did it provide a basis for claiming the rights mentioned therein before the courts? Were the right to education, copyrights and freedom of research claimable before the courts or did they require further specification by ordinary laws to be invoked in judicial proceedings? What was the intention of Sweden in relation to the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Covenant? The Swedish Ombudsman was the precursor of such institutions in the world, and yet it had been given Status B as it was not fully compliant with the Paris Principles.
Sweden was familiar with concerns that international bodies expressed in relation to the protection of the indigenous Sami population. The Nordic Sami Convention, which would strengthen domestic norms for indigenous rights in accordance with international standards, had been under discussion for almost 20 years; what was the timeline for its adoption? Mr. Kedzia reiterated concerns about the very limited powers and capacities of the Sami Parliament, which should play a key role for indigenous rights in Sweden, and asked how the enhanced status of the Parliament and strengthening of its powers would be achieved? Mining operations in the Sami traditional areas constituted a threat to the access to land and water and to the Sami way of life and culture. Sweden intended to double the number of mines by 2020 and triple it by 2030.
Mr. Kedzia recognized the unprecedented number of refugees and asylum seekers who had arrived to Sweden in 2015, and expressed appreciation for the solidarity demonstrated by the Swedish people in this context. What were the most relevant measures applied in the area of economic, social and cultural rights of refugees and asylum-seekers?
Another Committee Expert took up the issue of the legal framework applicable to investment projects abroad, quoting the case of the Swedish National Pension Funds which had more than 160 billion Euros invested in overseas companies. The State had an off-hands approach, leaving it to the management of the Funds to deal with whatever ethical or environmental issues that might arise as a result of the operations by foreign companies in which the Funds invested. It was expected that the Government would be paying greater attention to those aspects. In the future, how would human rights impact assessments be undertaken prior to investments by actors under Swedish jurisdiction, and what steps would be taken to ensure that the investment by the Funds and others complied to the obligations under the Covenant?
A Committee Expert expressed appreciation for Sweden as a social welfare State and a gender equality pioneer, and asked about measures to further increase the participation of women in decision-making in listed companies, including a law setting the 40 per cent quota for women. What measures were in place to address involuntary part-time work by women, and to narrow the gender pay gap?
Employment was still an issue of concern, particularly in relation to young people, persons with disabilities and foreign-born women. How effective were the Government’s policies to redress those inequalities in the labour market? The Committee had previously expressed concern about the lack of accessibility to buildings for persons with disabilities and the slow progress in addressing the disproportionate unemployment of persons with disabilities. A gap in the participation in the labour market between persons with disabilities and other members of the society was widening since 2006; what was being done to address this and what were the reasons for which Sweden continued to refuse the introduction of employment quotas for persons with disabilities. There was no minimum wage legislation in Sweden, which preferred to leave the agreement on this issue to social partners; the concern was that this could lead to inequalities and differing standards across sectors. Did Sweden feel inspired by the experience of Germany in recently introducing statutory minimum wage? What plans were in place to combat occupational diseases, and what was the position of the Government to criminalize sexual harassment in the workplace? An Expert urged Sweden to review the decision to cut back on personal assistance for persons with disabilities?
Several Experts expressed their appreciation for the way the Swedish people and Government were addressing the refugee crisis despite all the challenges.
Replies by the Delegation
The head of the delegation explained key challenges in receiving the unprecedented number of refugees and asylum-seekers and said that it was the State which was responsible for providing care for asylum seekers and their families, while 291 Swedish communes were in charge of the 36,300 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who had arrived to the country in 2015. This was one of the major challenges because it was the communes which needed to place the children in families and in alternative care. Prior to 2015, communes placed 7,000 children in alternative care annually, so accommodating more than 36,000 children in a short span of time put the communes under a great deal of pressure. It had also put stress on the social welfare system which had to ensure that every child got everything they needed and that the placement fit the needs of every child. Over 90 per cent of unaccompanied minors were boys aged 15 to 17, who were all very brave and very healthy, and needed different kind of accommodation than families, so Sweden needed to build a much stronger network for those children. Another challenge was that at the beginning, the asylum decisions took a long time to take, which put an additional layer of uncertainty on children who would simply disappear as they did not know whether or not the application would be accepted. Giving temporary residence permits was the toughest decision the Government had to make; the alternative was to close the border and this was something that the Government did not want to do.
Among the measures to improve gender equality was the investment in 2015 of 10 billion SEK in communes to support the employment of women, especially through investing in the social welfare system, in which most of the employees were women. Assistant nurses were the ones who had gotten the highest pay rise.
A significant number of vulnerable European Union citizens from mainly Romania and Bulgaria had started arriving to Sweden some three years ago, bringing with them practices such as begging,. Seeing people begging on streets had been a shock to Swedish society, which had demanded that those vulnerable persons, who did not study or work in Sweden, receive support. The issue of vulnerable European Union citizens was being tackled at the municipal and national levels through bilateral agreements with the concerned countries, and Sweden was also going to raise the issue at the European level.
The budget for the support, integration and participation of persons with disabilities had grown from 13 billon SEK to over 30 billion SEK, without a significant rise in the number of persons in the system. There was a need for a profound reform of this system, which did not work properly, and which would have to address those most vulnerable within the system, as well as disparity between women and men.
Whether or not Sweden ratified the Optional Protocol, it was important that the national system which would support its implementation was in place. So far, no decision had been made on the ratification of the Optional Protocol. Prior to the ratification of the Covenant, Sweden had already made a review of its legislation to ensure that it was in conformity with the provisions of the Covenant. A number of measures were being taken to ensure that the rights guaranteed by the Covenant were implemented in practice, including allocating 15 billion SEK annually since 2004, to support the promotion of human rights – including economic, social and cultural rights . Another programme was the 2014-2017 Uppsala University Programme for Central Government Employees to learn about human rights and how they related to their day-to-day work and how to put human rights into practice. The Equality Ombudsman had Status B because of its limited mandate and because of the lack of autonomy as the Government could appoint and dismiss the Ombudsperson without any criteria. The Government intended to propose to the Parliament the establishment of an independent national human rights institution in compliance with the Paris Principles.
Sweden had put in place measures to increase the enjoyment of rights by indigenous Sami people, including their right to self-determination. The delegation could not give the timeframe for the adoption of the Nordic Sami Convention. The right of the Sami to use land and water for reindeer herding was protected by the law, and the use of land that jeopardised reindeer husbandry was not permitted. This right was also protected in the Constitution. Mining activities were regulated by the Mineral Act and the Environment Code; the legislation sought to strike an appropriate balance between the need to use the land for reindeer husbandry and its use for other purposes. There was no one specific formula for consultations with indigenous people; consultations were a fundamental part of the Swedish tradition and were held on a regular basis and in a variety of ways. The State must impose limitations on the exercise of some rights, such as the right to property, and could do so only for public interest purposes and with a good justification. The Government was encouraging further dialogue between Sami villages and mining companies in the early phases.
In the area of education for asylum seekers, it was now obligatory to conduct an assessment of school skills within two months of arrival, which would decide in which grade the newly arrived students would be placed. The Government had allocated 2,000 education places for the education of adult asylum seekers, to combine with language training.
The National Swedish Pension Funds were governed by the AP-funds Act, which guaranteed their independence with the aim of ensuring the greatest return of investment and was not governed by political interest. This was not to say that there was no State oversight, and in addition, the AP-funds were developing their own management of ethical and environmental considerations.
Municipal authorities in Sweden were very independent, and following the increase in the number of refugees in 2015, cooperation with the State and its agencies had increased, particularly in the area of work, which, together with education, were indispensable to support the stay of refugees and their integration in the society. Programmes were being put in place to provide language training for refugees, in order to facilitate their integration in the workplace – it started first for chefs, then nurses, doctors, and was followed by other professions.
The protection against discrimination of persons with disabilities on the basis of accessibility had been strengthened last year, and the failure to take reasonable measures to ensure accessibility – in all areas of life – was deemed discrimination. The Government was investigating how to further strengthen this protection. The inclusion of Roma was a priority for the Government which had adopted the Strategy for Roma Inclusion in 2012, which contained targeted measures to support access to health, education, work and social services in five pilot communities. The results so far were encouraging, and the Government had allocated some six million Euros for the next phase. The strengthening of Roma civil society was an important factor of success, as was the work against discrimination and antiziganism. In 2014, the Government had presented the White Paper on the discrimination and exclusion that Roma had suffered over the decades, and the aim was to increase understanding.
Questions by the Committee Experts
In their follow-up questions, Committee Experts asked about anti-discrimination legislation in Sweden and whether there were discussions to broaden the grounds for discrimination as described in the Covenant’s Article 2.2. Sweden generally recognized economic, social and cultural rights and had well developed national jurisprudence in this regard, so Experts wondered why Sweden needed another year to decide whether or not to ratify the Optional Protocol. What were the reasons that explained the increasing gap in employment between persons with disabilities and others? There was no Penal Code provision criminalizing sexual harassment, so was it prohibited in the law?
ZDZISLAW KEDZIA, Member of the Committee and Rapporteur for the report of Sweden, asked the delegation to explain the application of the principle of burden of proof in the case involving the Sami population.
The delegation was also asked about its interpretation of the notion of “to the maximum of available resources”, as per which criteria that maximum was defined and how much had been invested in the 10 key areas as defined by the Covenant.
The Committee welcomed the new legislation in 2014 to prevent forced and child marriages and asked how it was implemented in practice, including in cases involving immigrant children. Sweden was a destination country for women and children victims of sex trafficking, which was surprising as the purchase of sex services was prohibited by law.
Experts commended Sweden for its important work in addressing violence against women, and noted some of the remaining problems, including the definition of rape, which carried the elements of threat or use of force, but not the element of lack of consent. This was a problematic definition and the delegation was asked whether it intended to amend it. The rate of convictions for rape was rather low: in 2012 there were 98,000 cases of sexual crimes reported, but only about 1,000 had been prosecuted. The delegation was asked about violence in same sex relations, policies and programmes to address violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, and the impact of the law prohibiting the purchase of sex services on sex trafficking and prostitution. The Government had recently drafted a bill on temporary residence permits and on limiting family reunification; how did this affect asylum-seekers?
Another Expert asked about measures to address poverty among refugees, migrants, Roma, and Afro-Swedes, and, turning to housing, asked about measures to address the shortage of affordable housing and affordable tenancies, especially in main cities and for disadvantaged and marginalized groups, and about policies to address the problems that Roma faced in housing, including forced evictions from illegal settlements. What was the situation of child poverty in Sweden? There was a problem of compulsory psychiatric care: what legislation or judicial measures were in place to prevent detention in psychiatric institutions solely on the basis of disability?
Sweden had adopted more humane and more harm reduction strategies in dealing with drug users, especially users of injectable drugs, but some shortcomings in the policy remained, including lack of data on users, lack of accessibility of opiates in prisons, and the response to overdose.
Committee Experts asked the delegation about teaching in minority languages and steps to strengthen access to bilingual education, about ethnicity data collection which was prohibited in the law, about grants to support cultural activities of Sami and ethnic groups, why minorities were not obliged to follow courses in their mother tongue, about measures to address the shortage of teachers of the Sami language, and about access to education for migrant and refugee children prior to obtaining a valid residence document in Sweden.
Replies by the Delegation
It was very hard to close the gap in employment between persons with disabilities and other individuals. The previous Government’s policy to address all social challenges through tax cuts did not work. The current Government had a different approach, focused on facilitating the integration of persons with disabilities in the world of work, and it was also putting in significant resources to implement those special measures and programmes. Sweden was quite advanced in terms of physical accessibility for persons with disabilities, but what still needed to change was attitudes and the way that people with different abilities were seen. At the end of 2014, there were 184 persons with disabilities employed in public services, representing 27 per cent of all employed persons with disabilities. Sweden’s 2015/16 budget included resources for the opening of 2,000 employment places in the company called Samhall, which were reserved for persons with disabilities, where youths were prioritized. There were other labour market measures which combined regular education with training in the workplace.
The list of grounds for discrimination contained in the 2009 Anti-discrimination Act, although it contained many grounds such as sex, gender, ethnicity and others, was not comprehensive and was not an open list. It was important to note that Sweden was a party to the European Convention on Human Rights, which ensured protection from discrimination on any ground. Sexual harassment was criminalized in Chapter 6 para 10 of the Penal Code; the prohibition applied to all situations, including in the workplace.
Minimum wage legislation would represent a huge change in the Swedish labour model, where social partners could negotiate and conclude collective agreements, and the role of the State was to facilitate the process. Currently, 90 per cent of the workforce was covered by collective agreements. The system served Sweden well, the employment rate was good and the unemployment rate was declining. There were more than a million registered companies in Sweden of which only several were listed. At the moment, 46 per cent of the members of boards of state companies were women. Full time work was a norm in Sweden, and part-time work should be an opportunity for both women and men, but it was more women than men who were in part-time employment.
One of the key statements the Prime Minister had made upon entering the office was related to initiating reforms to bring the country together and close socio-economic gaps that had increased over the past eight years. The main policy to fight poverty was the job policy, which stood on three pillars: investing into the future, with key elements of ensuring housing for all and climate adaptation and investment in infrastructure; promoting innovation and research policies for companies and ensuring better representation and participation of women and ethnicities; and investing in skills and matching, in order to address the unemployment which was still rather high by Swedish standards, even if they were considered low in the European Union. Children were not poor by themselves, but it was their parents or their caretakers. That was why Sweden was investing in raising income opportunities for parents, especially mothers and single parents. For this, child care was crucial, but not only during the day but after hours, at night or during weekends, to enable women to work when they needed to work. Sweden was also increasing child support benefits and had added an extra month of paid parental leave for both parents, whereby 90 days of parental leave were obligatory for both mother and father and could not be passed over to another parent. Asylum seekers enjoyed the same social benefits as Swedes.
Sweden was very proud to have the law which prohibited buying of sex and that it did not penalize those who were forced to sell sex, including victims of sex trafficking. Sweden was working on the strategy to combat violence in relationships which would include not only violence against women by men, but also violence in same sex relationships, and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, and would represent a part of the larger effort to combat violence. Sweden was reviewing its crime legislation on rape in order to determine whether to include lack of consent as a determining factor in addition to the threat or use of violence. The reviewing committee would also look into the situation of prosecuting reported cases of sexual violence and rape, with the view to improve sanctioning of the crime. Its report was due in October 2016.
The rules governing family reunification had been changed because of the recent increase in the number of asylum seekers in Sweden. Those who were granted refugee status had the right to family reunification, while those who received subsidiary protection status did not have the right to reunite with the family, unless they applied for asylum before 20 November 2015, which included most of those who arrived to Sweden last year. The new law on family reunification was currently being considered by Parliament.
Housing was a part of the 2012 Strategy for Roma Inclusion and the Board of Housing Planning was recently given the mandate to increase access of Roma to the housing market and combat discrimination against Roma in housing. The Strategy was based on the gender perspective and Roma women and girls were particularly targeted through specific measures. A study conducted in 2105 by public health authorities showed that Roma girls and women generally felt that they were treated less well than other women in the country, were more poor, less healthy and suffered more violence.
The arrival of 160,000 asylum seekers had put a great strain on the country’s health system. Asylum seekers and undocumented migrants under the age of 18 have the same access to health and dental care as Swedish resident children, while those aged over 18 are offered medical and dental treatment that could not be postponed, and maternity and abortion care. Asylum seekers above 18 who have student cards have access to student health care. .
There was indeed a lack of qualified national minority language teachers, and this was true for Sami languages as well. In order to increase the number of teachers, a number of universities had been commissioned in 2013 to develop training programmes for teachers of national minority languages. The National Agency for Education had been distributing grants for teachers participating in minority languages training programmes since 2013. The possibility of remote education in the Sami language had been introduced in the Education Act in 2015. Children asylum seekers had the right to pre-school, primary and upper secondary education, if they started it before the age of 18. Undocumented children had the same rights. Children of the European Union citizens staying in Sweden under the three month rule did not have access to education, unless such a decision to admit them was made by the municipal authorities.
On the lack of data and statistics on ethnicity in Sweden, the delegation explained that those data were not being compiled because of well-known historical reasons; some national minorities were very much opposed to gathering of such data. There were five recognized national minorities in Sweden, and grants distributed for the purpose of strengthening national minority language and culture were distributed to organizations of persons who self-declared as belonging to a national minority.
In terms of ensuring that all 291 communes in Sweden had the necessary information to implement the laws, there were recommendations by the Government in the areas that were not sufficiently known in the communes and on new issues. Such was the case concerning vulnerable citizens of the European Union, or the treatment of unaccompanied minors, for example. The new Government’s webpage on human rights would publicize all decisions and concluding observations made by international human rights bodies, which could be freely consulted by the communes.
Follow-up Questions by the Committee Experts
Committee Experts welcomed the information that Sweden was examining the ratification of the Optional Protocol and the intention to review anti-discrimination legislation. With regard to treatment of vulnerable citizens from the European Union, the delegation was reminded of the obligation to apply the Covenant’s principle of life and dignity across the board. While Sweden had a very high level of enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, there were still some areas where there were lacunae in the law and where further improvement was needed. One such area was the assimilation of immigrant communities in relation to practices such as child marriages, female genital mutilation, and others, which were not known in host communities. Despite criminalization of the purchase of sex services, Sweden was still a major destination country for sex trafficking.
What was the status of the Stockholm process on the impact of economic sanctions that had started some nine years ago?
WALEED SADI, Committee Chairperson, asked about the rights of asylum seekers between the moment of application until their status was determined, whether there were tax incentives to promote the hiring of persons with disabilities, whether the prohibition of sexual harassment included also verbal harassment, and what were the results of the prosecution of reported cases.
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation was very surprised to hear that Sweden was a major destination country for trafficked women and girls; the Government worked closely on the issue and did not have information to this effect. Regarding the legislation on the purchase of sex services, the statistics had been evaluated and showed effectiveness. Sweden penalized both the purchase of sex and trafficking of human beings including for sexual exploitation.
Underage girls asylum seekers who came to Sweden with an adult male, who was neither a parent nor a guardian, were assumed to be in child marriage; they were separated from the “husband”, accommodated with children and treated as a child. Sweden was well aware that child marriages were often last-resort strategies of families, and marrying off the girls was seen as the only way to cope with refugee situations, and that was why Sweden was working on addressing the issue also at the local level.
Sexual abuse of children committed by Swedish citizens abroad was prosecuted in Sweden; a proposal would be made to the Government in October to expand this extraterritorial jurisdiction to include sexual abuse of adults. Housing was one of the key priorities for the Government, which had five initiatives in this area, including investing in new affordable and quality housing.
Minimum wage legislation was not a political issue in Sweden, partly because the wages of those just starting the employment were rather high, and partly because Sweden, contrary to other countries with minimum wage legislations system, had the well-developed welfare system which provided support with housing, child allocation, disability allowances and other benefits.
There were some 140,000 people waiting for a decision on their asylum applications, and during this time they had to be safe and thrive, learn Swedish and take care of their children, so they had access to language training courses, access to schools and social security. There were discussions on how to support them and facilitate their entry into the work place. Sweden was well aware that asylum seekers who were waiting on a decision had time, and that they wanted to learn and develop – particularly children, so the Government was looking into ways to develop leisure and other activities. Approximately fifty-nine per cent of asylum seekers of upper secondary school age attended school.
ZDZISLAW KEDZIA, Member of the Committee and Rapporteur for the report of Sweden, agreed with the delegation that the review process was an opportunity to enrich the mutual understanding of economic, social and cultural rights and their implementation. Sweden had set the bar very high and legitimate expectations were at a level that would be unrealistic for many other States. Mr. Kedzia appreciated discussions on the current pressures and challenges, including economic and social crises, climate change and the global refugee crisis. The Committee was genuinely impressed by the level of professionality, frankness and cooperative spirit demonstrated by the delegation.
PERNILLA BARALT, State Secretary to the Minister of Children, Elderly and Gender Equality, Ministry of Health and Social Affairs of Sweden, said that this review was an opportunity to learn more about the Covenant, and about what was happening in Sweden and in other countries in the world. Ms. Baralt explained the approach of her feminist Government which explained the progress that was being achieved, saying that, before any measures were taken, a good reality check must be done, to know the situation and to know the areas where more progress was needed. For Sweden, those areas were housing and gender, including collecting gender-disaggregated data to guide action and decide on targets. It was indispensable to ensure proper representation and listen to the people expressing what they needed, and, crucially, resources must be provided but only to policies and measures that were assessed for impact. The Prime Minister had put women and children at the top of the agenda and Ms. Baralt reiterated the commitment to ensure that every child reached her or his potential, and to combat child poverty. In closing, Ms. Baralt paraphrased the beloved Astrid Lindgren’ character Pippi Longstocking, and said that Sweden was indeed strong and would be very kind to all the people in the society who were not yet fully realizing their rights.
WALEED SADI, Committee Chairperson, expressed hope that Covenant would be more relevant to policy makers, and that they would be more aware of its principles.
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