A Swedish human rights campaigner says Sweden's ban on smacking has broken up families and led to thousands of children being taken away from their parents every year.

Jamaican-born Ruby Harrold-Claesson, who chairs the Nordic Committee for Human Rights, says Sweden's smacking ban has also produced "badly behaved" children and young people who have a reputation for "hooliganism" in Europe.

She has been brought to New Zealand by the Christian-based Family Integrity and other groups opposing Green MP Sue Bradford's bill to remove a legal defence allowing parents to use "reasonable force" to discipline their children.

Sweden had 35,950 children under 18 in state care in 1999, or almost one child in every 50 - although some of these were cared for with their parents in special facilities.

The comparable figure in Child, Youth and Family Services (CYFS) care in New Zealand last year was just 5071, or only one child in 200.

Mrs Harrold-Claesson said "administrative violence" by the Swedish state was now worse than any violence by parents in their homes.

"If any parent smacks a child, the parent faces prosecution and the child can be taken away from them," she said.

As a lawyer, she has represented many parents who have had their children taken because of what they felt was reasonable discipline.

In a 2003 case, seven children aged between 13 and 4 were taken from their parents in the town of Svalov when their father was charged with "gross disturbance of the peace" for grabbing some of his children by the arms or neck and taking them to their rooms.

The father was held in jail for a month but was then acquitted, and the mother was not accused of any misdemeanours. But the Swedish equivalent of CYFS has so far refused to return their children, and in January last year took their newborn eighth child into care too.

"Until today, that family is fighting to get their children back," Mrs Harrold-Claesson said.

In another case, a mother slapped the faces of her two teenage daughters because they refused to empty the dishwasher. She was fined and the girls were removed from her care.

Mrs Harrold-Claesson said foster care in Sweden had become a multibillion-dollar industry, with foster parents paid both taxable and non-taxable payments. For children with special needs, payments ranged up to $1044 a day.

Children were often physically, sexually and emotionally abused in foster homes, but her complaints about foster parents were routinely ignored.

Mrs Harrold-Claesson herself has been banned from legal aid work in her city of Gothenburg since 1996 - a ban which she says is because she challenged Swedish laws at the European Commission for Human Rights.

A coalition of groups supporting Ms Bradford's bill, including Barnardos, Plunket and the office of Children's Commissioner Cindy Kiro, referred reporters to an article published two years ago about the ban. Barnardos chief executive Murray Edridge said Mrs Harrold-Claesson "is reported as acknowledging that she is not a member of the Swedish Law Society and that she is banned from practising in courts in Western Sweden.

"We understand that she is now distancing herself from Family Integrity, yet she herself is quoted in Sweden as saying: 'Children are emotional creatures who listen well through their skin,"' Mr Edridge said in a written statement.

"So far as I am concerned, she has come to New Zealand now under very dubious circumstances."

But Mrs Harrold-Claesson said she was still able to practise fee-paid legal work in Gothenburg and legal aid work outside that city. She has said she did not belong to the law society because she did not have the required income of at least 500,000 Swedish kroner ($108,000).

She said the quote about children "listening through their skin" came from a case where a non-Swedish-speaking immigrant boy was taken from his mother, another mother tried to comfort him and was told: "Don't bother, he won't understand you anyway."

"I said children are emotional creatures, they understand through their skin," she said.

However, she supported parents' right to smack and said she smacked her own three children.* Mrs Harrold-Claesson speaks at public meetings in Lower Hutt on Saturday and in Porirua, Hamilton, Manukau and Birkenhead next week.