The Making of the First Child Welfare and Juvenile Crime Acts in Finland 1897–1943


  • Timo Harrikari University of Helsinki


Legislation is one of the most powerful instruments in protecting children and producing modern childhood. Child welfare and juvenile crime legislation are - among other things – significant milestones of modern childhood and youth. Legislation – including certain age limits – determines how children and the sphere of childhood are separated from adults and adulthood in nation states. In addition, through national legislation children, young people, families with children and their everyday life are connected with the regulating governmental body, where the state and public authorities increasingly define e.g. the norms of societal childhood and appropriate behavior for parents.

This article describes procedures leading to the establishing of the first Finnish Child Welfare Act (1936) and Juvenile Crime legislation (1940–43) during the first years of the 20th century. More particularly, this article discusses the changing interpretations of and societal reactions to juvenile crime as part of governing the minors. The first Nordic child welfare acts were enacted in Norway in 1896, Sweden in 1902 and Denmark in 1905. Finland was a late-comer. Even though similar efforts emerged at the turn of the 20th century in Finland, the first child welfare act was enacted as late as in 1936 and the first Juvenile Crime Act in 1940.

Thus, the making of the first child welfare act, and furthermore, the first juvenile crime act, took nearly forty years, from the very first parliamentary motion represented in 1897 to the final drafts in 1936 and 1940. During this period, child welfare and juvenile crime discourses and doctrines changed and the actors of the legislative processes varied. This article analyses the types of discursive changes that emerged within these legislative processes and asks why the child welfare and juvenile crime acts finally became what they are. Thus, the applied description is a historical and political analysis where the questions of childhood, youth, child welfare and juvenile crime are structured and restructured within the space of the constitutional state.




Special Issue: "European History of Social Work"