Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 January 2018, 13:34 GMT

Child Soldiers Global Report 2001 - Sweden

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 2001
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2001 - Sweden, 2001, available at: [accessed 17 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Mainly covers the period June 1998 to April 2001 as well as including some earlier information.

  • Population:
    – total: 8,892,000
    – under-18s: 1,934,000
  • Government armed forces:
    – active: 52,700
    – paramilitary: 600
  • Compulsory recruitment age: 19
  • Voluntary recruitment age: not applicable
  • Voting age (government elections): 18
  • Child soldiers: none indicated
  • CRC-OP-CAC: signed on 8 June 2000
  • Other treaties ratified: CRC, GC/API+II
  • There are no under-18s in the government armed forces, although children are known to participate in military training programmes from 15. There are reports of child recruitment in Sweden by armed groups from other countries.


National Recruitment Legislation and Practice

Article 16 of the 1975 Constitution states: "No Act of law or other statutory instrument may entail the discrimination of any citizen on grounds of sex, unless the relevant provision forms part of efforts to bring about equality between men and women or relates to compulsory military service or any corresponding compulsory national service."1818 The legal basis of conscription is the 1994 Total Defence Act.1819

Swedish defence is based on the concept of 'total defence' which is defined by the Act on Increased Emergency Preparedness (1992:1403) as the range of activities required to ensure that Sweden is prepared for war. 'Total defence' consists of military operations (military defence) and civilian operations (civilian defence).1820

Everyone in Sweden between the ages of 16 and 70 is liable for total defence service. This service can be performed in the form of military service, civilian service or general service duty. All Swedish men between the ages of 18 and 24 are required to enrol for total defence service. Conscription takes place only for military service and civil defence service.1821 Military service is performed in the Armed Forces. All men between the ages of 19 and 47 are liable for military service. In 1999, 18,411 men and 360 women joined up for full-length basic training in the Armed Forces.1822 Civil defence service consists of training conscripts to be assigned to civil sections of the total defence organisation during wartime.1823 It is compulsory for all men between the ages of 16 and 70.1824

Since 1980 females can voluntarily sign up for military training and service like regular conscripts, taking an entrance test in lieu of enrolment;1825 at first they were only able to sign up with some units. After signing up, there is no clause for opting out. In 1999, 250 female volunteers were processed and evaluated for duty. About 100 females started officer training. At present, there are no plans for female conscription.1826

Military service lasts from 7 to 15 months in the army and navy and 8 to 12 months in the air force.1827 Exemptions and postponements are possible on various grounds, such as medical reasons.1828

During the consideration of its report before the Committee on the Rights of the Child in 1998, the representative of the Swedish government stated that Sweden is firm in its view that all children under 18 shall be protected from service with the armed forces during war.1829 As far as the Home Guards are concerned, a person enrolled as a home guardsman must be at least 18 years old.1830

Military Training and Military Schools

The Swedish armed forces facilitate and provide assistance for voluntary basic military training through voluntary defence organisations for boys and girls who have attained the age of 15 until the end of the calendar year during which they attain the age of 20. Participants in the youth training programme are not members of the total defence nor the armed forces until they have completed compulsory combat training and have been war posted – i.e. until they have reached 18 years of age. The purpose of this voluntary military education is to raise awareness among the population of total defence duties and the armed forces. This training is not made available for people who are still within compulsory basic education. Children below the age of 18 need parental consent to participate. The training is conducted at weekends, usually in a military location. The internal regulations of the armed forces state that shooting practices with a rifle can be performed by persons who have attained the age of 15; 17 years is the minimum age for practice with automatic shotguns and only at a rifle/shooting-range. Only those who will turn 18 in the same year can do combat training. During this training youth wear military protective suits or overalls. They can also use military transportation, accommodation and feeding facilities. Other military equipment may also be borrowed, in case of need.1831

Voluntary defence organizations are an important element of public involvement in Sweden's defence. These organizations are independent associations committed to supporting the total defence. They provide personnel for the wartime organisation on a voluntary basis and they maintain and enhance the skills of those who already have a wartime assignment.1832 The Swedish armed forces have signed commission agreements with 20 out of 24 voluntary military organisations, which provide military training to youth based on yearly demands from the armed forces. These programmes are financed by private means, state grants, remuneration, and financial allowances from the military authorities. The Home Guard does not receive any financial support for its youth training programmes.


  • PKK

During the summer of 1998, Rädda Barnen learnt of PKK recruitment drives in Swedish schools. Seventeen minors were invited to attend a 'summer camp' in July in northern Sweden before being recruited to serve the PKK in southeast Turkey. By mid-August 1998, only three of them had returned. Many families have reported their children missing to the police. Media reports suggest that over 50 children have been recruited to the PKK from Sweden over the past 10 years. Further research by Rädda Barnen suggests that other foreign armed groups have also recruited children in Sweden.1833


International Standards

Sweden signed the CRC-OP-CAC on 8 June 2000. Sweden chaired the UN Working Group that negotiated the draft Optional Protocol. During negotiations in January 2000, Sweden indicated that it "would have liked to see a stronger protocol with a standard of 18."1834 A declaration made by Nordic Foreign Ministers in August 1999 strongly supported the adoption of an Optional Protocol prohibiting all recruitment and deployment of under-18s.


1819 Lag on totalförsvarsplikt, 15/12/94, SFS 1994: 1809.

1820, Ministry of defence website.

1821 General service does not involve any form of training.

1822 Ministry of Defence, op. cit.

1823 Horeman and Stolwijk, op. cit.

1824 Ministry of Defence, op. cit.

1825 Ministry of Defence, op. cit.

1826, History of conscription in Sweden (latest update 21/3/00).

1827 IISS, Military Balance op. cit.

1828 Horeman and Stolwijk, op. cit.

1829 Second Periodic Report of Sweden to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Doc. CRC/C/65/Add.3, 11 February 1998, para. 688.

1830 Ibid., para. 690.

1831 Information provided to CSC by RB.

1832 Ministry of Defence op. cit.

1833 Information provided to CSC by RB.

1834 E/CN.4/2000/74, 27/3/00 para. 95.

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