As most people count their blessings and prepare to enjoy Christmas with family, many others face serious struggles. Among these is the Swedish family of Annie and Christer Johansson whose only child, 7-year-old Dominic Johansson, was “kidnapped” by Swedish authorities in June of this year as the family was on a plane leaving the country for a new life and home in India. Annie Johansson is from India where her entire family lives.
The Johanssons’ lives suddenly changed, and a nightmare ensued as police officers took Dominic off the plane at the orders of local social workers. They didn’t have a warrant, and they didn’t charge the Johanssons with any crime. Their reasoning? Dominic had been homeschooled, and the authorities wanted to make sure he was receiving an education.
After some testing by Swedish authorities, it was discovered that Dominic was only slightly behind in some subjects, but that he had been making academic progress. The family had been refused school materials by their local school when they had asked for them last year. As a homeschooling family, the Johanssons lean towards unschooling, profess the Christian faith, and try to live close to nature. Mr. and Mrs. Johannson had made plans to move to India to work with several orphanages to help them to live simply and economically. Although their lifestyle is out of the ordinary to Swedish officials, nothing in their approach to family life justified such a radical state intervention. In addition to living simply, the Johanssons exercised their legal rights to opt out of vaccinations for their son as well as only taking him to the doctor when he was sick, also reasons cited by the court to allow Swedish social services to retain custody of Dominic.
Swedish press has reported that senior police officials in Sweden have criticized local police and social workers for their sensational actions. Press reports also suggest that the local social services may be caught in a trap of their own making. They must continue with their course of action or otherwise admit that they have disgracefully ruined a family and traumatized a child. Some Swedish newspapers also report that the pride and stereotyping exhibited by social workers in this case imply they are out to get this family. According to letters obtained by HSLDA, the most recent decision of the local social workers is that they will not be allowing Annie and Christer to visit with Dominic until after New Year’s Day. And then they will be permitted one-hour visits every fifth week.
Mr. Johansson expressed deep concern about the state of his wife. “Annie cannot even talk right now. We are in total shock. We had hoped the court would return our son. We have been and remain willing to cooperate with social services, but they keep telling us we are not capable of caring for our son. This is not true. We have taken care of Dominic. While we may do things differently than most Swedes, we have not broken any laws and we have not harmed our son. We decided as a family that we wanted to move to India where we could be near my wife’s family. But the government has taken over my family, and now we are living in a nightmare. I fear for the life of my wife under this torture and for the well being of my son who has only been allowed to see his parents for a few hours since he was taken. The government is alienating my son from me, and I am powerless to do anything.”
The Swedish press has reported that the court admits the family has taken care of Dominic as they thought best, but insists the government’s plan is better.
In its opinion the court noted that Dominic had some untreated cavities and had not been vaccinated. The court also said that because Dominic had not been in school he had been “socially isolated.” This, the court said, demonstrated that the parents were not aware of the impact their decision to homeschool would have on Dominic’s future development and opportunities. Social workers and the court have mentioned the psychiatric condition of Mr. and Mrs. Johansson. However, Mr. Johansson vehemently denies any such mental problems.
“I have had a mental check with a psychiatrist who has given me a clean bill of health,” says Christer Johansson. “My poor wife, on the other hand, has been absolutely traumatized by this kidnapping. She is in a deep depression and has been hospitalized on several occasions. Is it any wonder? Our only child has been stolen from us and we have only been permitted to see him a few times since he was taken.”
A former Swedish social worker who spoke with HSLDA anonymously severely criticized how current social workers are treating the Johanssons.
“This case is an absolute outrage,” the former social worker said. “From the taking of the child off a plane by uniformed police officers to the absurd visitation schedule and now the complete cessation of visits. The social workers in this case are letting their pride interfere with the best interests of this little boy. In Sweden the socialist mindset of the government is that it knows what’s best for kids—better than their own parents. And in the case where a family, like the Johanssons, may do things that are different, the government intervenes.”
The court opinion also noted that Dominic had not been to the normal child care facilities and to school.
The social worker continued, “What is normal? In whose opinion? Why should the government get to make this decision? The boy is being taken care of and not being harmed. The family had decided to move to India where the mother is from. What is wrong with this?”
Now that attempts to renew contact with local social workers have been rebuffed, the Johanssons are feeling especially frustrated.
“We had hoped to have a meeting with the local board to provide new information,” says Christer Johansson. “But since our hearing before an appeals judge a few weeks ago they have told us that we can no longer see our son. They have said that the visits are traumatic for him. Is it any wonder? The poor boy has been kidnapped from his parents and is being forced to live with other people. No wonder it’s hard for him after the visits with us. He wants to come home but is being held against his will and our will by the government.”.
Roger Kiska, an Alliance Defense Fund attorney based in Europe, noted that this kind of behavior was shocking but sadly not without precedent. Kiska has been following the case and has sent several letters expressing concern over the incident.
“What you have here is a socialist country trying to create a cookie cutter kid,” Kiska said. “This family is a little different from the average Swedish family. There are so few homeschoolers in the country that this, along with their issues, has caused the social services agency to take the child in order to coerce changes from the family. Unfortunately. in Europe this kind of thing happens too often where social workers take a child and then just keep him. The parents in these cases are really powerless since the system is so one-sided.”
Michael Donnelly, director of international affairs for HSLDA, expressed indignation at the court decision.
“This court decision is deeply disturbing. The hostility against homeschooling and for parent’s rights is contrary to everything expected from a Western nation. This decision echoes the German courts who have ruled homeschooling illegal, and that it is OK to take children from parents who do homeschool. We had hoped that the appeals court would return Dominic to his family. Since they are not, we believe it is critical all freedom-loving people respond to this outrageous decision.”
Donnelly continued, “HSLDA is gravely concerned about this case as it represents what can happen to other families who might wish to homeschool their children. Furthermore, in response to inquiries from HSLDA, Swedish authorities have cited the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to explain and defend their actions. If the U.S. were to ever ratify this treaty, then state-sponsored kidnapping could occur here. Every homeschooler would be at risk. Such treatment of families and children is inhumane and inconsistent with a reasonable understanding of basic human rights. Therefore, we are asking our members to contact Swedish officials asking them to return Dominic Johansson to his family.”