UN Committee on the Rights of the Child calls for harm reduction for under 18s in Sweden (and their parents)

Date: 17 June 2009

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090525_comite_crc%5B1%5D.jpgThe UN’s body of experts established to monitor the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has raised a number of concerns about Sweden’s drug policies and has recommended that the State "Ensure the provision of necessary evidence-based support, recovery and reintegration services to all children affected by substance abuse, including drug users below 18 years of age and children suffering as a result of their parents’ drug abuse, aimed at effectively reducing the harmful consequences of such abuse"

The Committee applauded Sweden’s reported drug prevention efforts but raised concerns about the “limited treatment possibilities” for under 18s in Sweden.

It is the most clear statement of support yet from this Committee for evidence based harm reduction measures for children and young people who use drugs, and also for parents who use drugs in order to effectively protect children from the harmful consequences of that use.

Every five years, States that have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (that is all of them bar the US and Somalia) must report to the independent committee set up to monitor the Convention (The Committee on the Rights of the Child) on the measures taken to implement their treaty obligations. In June it was Sweden’s turn again, its fourth such report.

Data collection was also a key concern. The Committee noted that the country’s data on drug use among under 18s was poor, and that the number of under 18s injecting drugs was unknown. The Committee recommended that Sweden “Conduct studies and collect data in view of determining the prevalence of this phenomenon”

It also called on the Government to provide “accurate and objective” information to children and parents on the “harmful consequences” of drug use - something our colleagues at Youth RISE have been seeking for some time!

While the recommendation is not perfect (we’d prefer avoiding the word “abuse” for example, and the inclusion of references to specific harm reduction services) the content of this ‘Concluding Observation’ from the Committee is very different from its previous statements on the issue of drug use among children and young people and an extremely positive move in the right direction.

The CRC is the most ratified of all of the UN human rights treaties and the only one to mention drug use. Article 33 states that “appropriate measures” must be taken to “protect children from the illicit use of narcotic drugs” and from their involvement in trafficking. This has been used by some to argue that the CRC precludes harm reduction. We have argued previously that this argument does not hold water. The Committee on the Rights of the Child has now made it even harder to defend.

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