International and European Conventions

Sweden has signed and ratified the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention). Article 38 on female genital mutilation reads

“Parties shall take the necessary legislative or other measures to ensure that the following intentional conducts are criminalised:

  1. excising, infibulating or performing any other mutilation to the whole or any part of a woman’s labia majora, labia minora or clitoris;
  2. coercing or procuring a woman to undergo any of the acts listed in point a;
  3. inciting, coercing or procuring a girl to undergo any of the acts listed in point a.

Work to combat FGM is also supported by Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), which says

State Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.

Criminal law

FGM was criminalised in Sweden in 1982 (Lag, 1982). It is also a criminal offence for Swedish citizens to carry out FGM abroad (SFS, 1998).

Child protection law

Sweden was the first country to outlaw all forms of corporal punishment of children, in 1979 (Regeringskansliet & Rädda Barnen, 2009).

According to the Care of Young Persons (Special Provisions) Act (1990), a girl can be taken into custody if it is suspected that she is at risk of being cut.

Asylum law

FGM is not formally mentioned in Sweden’s asylum regulation. However, a 2011 report by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Social Security, Asylum, Integration and Citizenship highlights the fact that children may have grounds for asylum on their own part, irrespective of their caregivers’ grounds for asylum—for instance, in the case of FGM. Therefore, not only should a child’s claims to asylum be individually assessed, attention should also be given to their specific reasons for obtaining permission to stay. In addition, the report refers to FGM as an example of the gender-specific persecution of women.

Missive 2011:14 on Exceptionally Harrowing Circumstances and Executive Barriers – A Survey of Implementation refers to the case of an Azerbaijani woman granted asylum, for reasons including the fact that she had been through FGM.

Similarly, Swedish Government Official Reports (2009) provides a detailed description of the case of an Eritrean mother and her three daughters who, after being repeatedly denied asylum in Sweden, raised the issue of FGM. The mother and two eldest daughters had been cut. They were granted a new trial and finally secured permission to stay in Sweden.

Professional confidentiality

Under the Swedish Social Services Act (2001), anyone working in the healthcare or education sector is obliged to report a suspicion about FGM to the authorities (Socialstyrelsen, 2016). Furthermore, under the Special Representative for a Child Act (1999), a physician is empowered to conduct the genital examination of a child, even if the child’s parents object.

Guidance on best practice in the care of girls and women who have undergone FGM is found in Swedish Government Official Reports (2006), including critical discussion on perspectives and terminology.

Under the Public Access to Information and Secrecy Act (2009), the usual duty of secrecy is removed in the case of FGM, which can be reported to the police and prosecutor and, in the case of health professionals, must be reported to social services. Social services may report cases of FGM to the police. In the case of children, guidelines state that FGM should be reported to the police unless, in extreme cases, this would be harmful to the child.