Barbro Westerholm

Member of the Swedish Parliament and physician




I am also a Member of Parliament. I was there initially between 1988 and 1999 and then since 2006. I represent the liberal party.


Why is this an important question?

I am a doctor and I inherited this question because I realised that patients under influence do not get professional assistance when they leave cultic organizations. There are also commercial problems generated by these groups and in particular they are a threat to democracy.


Between 1986 and 1990 many proposals were presented by individual Swedish members of Parliament:


–         requests for information on personal courses of development offered commercially by certain organizations;

–         measures against the publicity about personality changing courses which harm people

–         requests for the creation of rehabilitation structures for victims of organizations which transform the personality;

–         psychological assistance for people leaving “cults/sects”;

–         additions to the Penal code relating to improper abusive influence.


  • All this led to a decision by Parliament in the spring of 1995 showing the need for a parliamentary investigation with the task of producing legislation proposals, research and dissemination of knowledge, to provide support “to this group of forgotten and invisible people, deprived of the most significant of the human rights, the right to exert their free will” the investigation was also meant to lead to proposals to prevent people from ending up in acute states of crisis.


The results of this investigation were published in 1998 [2]


The report was named “In Good Faith” and the starting point of this report was the Universal Declaration of the Human rights: freedom of thought and word, freedom to practise their religion, freedom to change religion or beliefs, freedom of opinion and speech.


The investigation had more particularly targeted “New Age” organizations although basically there was a broader parliamentary decision.




Proposal by the investigation to provide help to people, who for special reasons, are in state of crisis:


–         Establishment of a Centre of knowledge on the purpose of life and questions of faith.

–         The Centre could have the responsibility to educate groups of professionals on organizations using undue influence.

–         Addition to the Penal code regarding the use of abusive influence towards people.

The investigation recommended, moreover, the creation of educational and professional units mainly to consult with patients, but who could also deal with other problematic groups in society.


Special attention was focused on the children in New Age movements considering the total lack of information on their condition in these movements. The will to improve the level of studies of the personnel working with children was apparent.


  • Personal advice and instructions should be forthcoming for people working with children in nurseries, schools, health care and social welfare and should include information on New Age movements
  • Curricula for students who study to become teachers and social workers should include questions about communities calling themselves religious, and later a follow-up on the cultural meetings organized by the municipalities.
  • Postgraduate training should be provided.



In Sweden there exist two different school networks: independent schools and State schools.


The independent schools may be managed by various churches or other organizations, in so far that they obtain the approval of a government agency.   There are weak spots in the legislation on private schools. The monitoring Authorities should have the responsibility to control:


–         It is the responsibility of social welfare agencies to gain knowledge about organisations which advocate corporal punishment or other activities which are contrary to the laws and rules which govern social welfare.

–         The rules for the supervision of independent schools should be revised.

–         The health care for children in independent schools should also be revised so that they reach the same standard of public schools.

–         The people in charge of the monitoring of these schools should have a better knowledge of the rules of concerning home education. The pupil should have a personal contact person.


The report “In Good Faith” did not make proposals concerning the treatment and the rehabilitation of the defectors.


What has happened since 1998

The investigation was referred to a number of authorities and organisations:


  • Decisions taken : Rejection of proposal on addition to the criminal code – could come in conflict with the fundamental human rights, Education – can be assumed within present system, the proposals on independent schools were referred to the Education Department.


 Now, 10 years later things begin to happen.


What has happened since 1998: Proposals from Members of Parliament


–         Protection of children15
–         Support – psychiatric – adults  5
–         Action against fraud and quackery  4
–         Addition to criminal code  4
–         Centre of knowledge  3
–         Financial support/taxation  3


What has happened since 1998? Six questions and debates in Parliament.


The situation to-day in the Swedish Parliament


  • Proposals about the situation of children and quackery were put forward in the autumn 2007 are still not dealt with;
  • We are expecting proposals from government on independent schools.


Other activities


–         The Association “Save the Children” made very significant efforts and in 2006 a decision was taken that the organisation should work in order to increase knowledge about the situation of children in cults/sects and in independent religious schools.


–         They published a book in 2007 and their Website includes information about children in cults/sects. This association attaches much importance to the need “for vaccinating” the public against manipulating organizations.


Other activities, examples

–         Symposium in 2005 organized by the Swedish Society of Medicine;

–         Liberal party: seminar in 2007; decision of the Liberal Party in 2007 on a psychiatric programme including the establishment of a Centre specialized in the assistance to victims

having left organizations using undue influence.


Students’ Contributions:


  • To play with fire – in the world of cults/sects (Karl-Erik Nylund)
  • Cult/Sect children (Charlotte Essén)
  • Media – articles, programmes


NGOs an import resource

  • BRIS[3] – The rights of children in society
  • FRI – The association Save the Individual
  • Hjälpkällan – The well of help (ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses)
  • ROS – Advice about sects
  • Save the Children



The Knutby murders 2004:


We thought the Knutby murders should alarm and alert politicians and other decision makers.


  • Knutby – a congregation within the Philadelphia movement. A pastor persuaded a young girl to murder his second wife. A third person played a role in what happened. A neighbour, “Christ’s bride”, who was the neighbour’s wife was implicated and condemned. The pastor’s first wife had died under odd circumstances




On the whole Swedish society shuts its eyes at the fact that there are people who need help when leaving manipulative organisations. But children have become a priority and there are driving forces that do not give up and will, I am sure, in the end succeed in reaching their goals.

[1] Originally presented as a power point document

[2]In Good Faith, the Report of the Swedish government on NRMs.  (Sweden : Rapporteur. Social Department,   Sou 1998:13.  I God Tro: Samhället och nyandligheten, p. 70 (in Swedish). Stockholm:Fritzes.

Report prepared by Margó Ingvardsson, Sonja Wallbom, and Lars Grip, (I God Tro: Samhället Och Nyandligheten, Stockholm, Statens offentliga utredningar, Social departementet, 1998.)

[3] BRIS (Barnens Rätt I Samhället) Sweden has a children’ s helpline founded in 1980. It is a non-governmental and non-profit organization, politically independent and non-religious, which works for childrens’ rights and strives to support children in distress.