Annie and Christer Johansson haven't seen their son, Domenic, in nearly four years. He was just seven when he was taken away from them at gunpoint in June 2009. The family was on an airplane about to leave Sweden for their new home in India, where Annie's family is from.
But the people who took him weren't kidnappers or terrorists -- they were Swedish police officers operating under orders from social service agencies. And social services ordered them to seize the boy—not to prevent him from being physically or sexually abused—but for being homeschooled. At least, that's the official reason they gave when they grabbed him and hauled him off the plane.
Homeschooling is illegal in Sweden, where the perks offered to working parents are great but the regulations imposed by the government are many. For example: People from "non-noble" families are prevented from giving their children "noble" names, and all schools must follow the exact same curriculum.
Swedish officials say that homeschooling is unnecessary because the country provides a "comprehensive and objective" education and restricts religious instruction in school, The Washington Times reported. Permission to homeschool is supposed to be granted on a case-by-case basis, but exceptions to the law are rare.
“Since all teaching in Swedish schools is both comprehensive and objective, there is no need for home schooling with reference to religious or philosophical reasons, and this is why this is not an option in the new Education Act,” Anna Neuman, press secretary for Education Minister Jan Bjorklund, said in 2010.
But the ban was officially passed in 2010 and enacted in 2011—long after police had taken Domenic away from his parents. The fact that the boy was seized during summer vacation, when school was not in session, also makes the case questionable.
According to the the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), at first the Johanssons were allowed to visit their son every two weeks. Then it was every five weeks. Then, in 2010, they were not allowed to visit their child at all. In spite of testimony from friends, family, and social workers that young Domenic was being properly cared for by his parents, in 2012 the government opted to terminate their parental rights and award custody of the boy to the state.
“How can anyone endure this kind of torture for so long, I don’t know," the Johansson's attorney, Ruby Harrold-Claesson, told HSLDA. "It’s unbearable to see how the pride of government officials is wrecking the lives of the Johanssons and others like them. These people have broken the law by taking this boy without justification and keeping him for three-and-a-half years. It’s uncivilized.”
“Sweden’s actions in this case are inexplicable,” said Michael Farris, a human rights attorney and the chairman of HSLDA. “The taking of this child for homeschooling and while the family was moving out of the country is an egregious violation of basic human rights and international law standards. Sweden is a party to numerous treaties that require them to respect the rights of parents to make education decisions and to leave the country if they choose. This is a dangerous precedent if permitted to stand.”
The Johanssons have one last chance to regain custody of their son: they're appealing to the Supreme Court of Sweden. HSLDA is organizing a letter-writing campaign and urging homeschoolers around the world to ask the court to reunite Domenic with his parents; they have set up a Facebook page for people to show support.
“The strain of the forced separation is inflicting unbearable pain and pressure on the family who still live on the same island just miles from where their son lives—yet they are not permitted to have any contact with him whatsoever,” HSLDA said in a statement. Harrold-Claesson pointed out that any email or fax received by the court must be registered and made public.
"Let them know that the world is watching," she said.
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