Regulating Sex: The Politics of Intimacy and Identity

By Elizabeth Bernstein; Laurie Schaffner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8

Child Welfare as Social Defense Against Sexuality:

A Norwegian Example

KJERSTI ERICSSON

From its philanthropic beginnings, child welfare has played a role in the social regulation of sexuality in Norway. Philanthropic agencies possessed considerable powers to define good and bad motherhood, and good and bad ways to rear children. Mothers were scrutinized both for their morals and their ability to take care of and control their young. Children and adolescents were assessed for their conformity to Norwegian norms of respectability.

When child welfare became a state responsibility at the end of the nineteenth century, the power to define and intervene was then supported by legislation. Society gave child welfare the task of patrolling the borders between acceptable and unacceptable socialization of children, and between acceptable and unacceptable behavior among the young themselves. This also implied patrolling the borders between acceptable and unacceptable sexuality.

The first Norwegian Child Welfare Act was passed in 1896 and implemented in 1900. The act was part of a reform in criminal law. Behind the reform lay both humanistic concerns and a sense of danger to society. On the one hand, reformers wanted to remove “crying children” from prisons. On the other hand, these same stakeholders saw the need to erect a social defense against the depraved children of the poor. The determination of criminal liability was raised from 10 to 14 years of age. Delinquent children were no longer to be

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