STOCKHOLM, Sweden -- Sweden used to be synonymous with freedom and safety. The nation was a haven for political refugees from around the world.
But today, Sweden is creating new political refugees: the home-schooler.
One of the escape routes for home-schoolers from Sweden is by ship, two hours across the Baltic sea to the Åland Islands. It's a part of Finland where the locals speak Swedish and where parents can home school in freedom.
Sweden's home-school movement has been crushed by a state apparatus that wants children as young as one year old in daycare, and all children in a classroom with a state-approved curriculum.
"The Swedish government believes that [the] state takes better care of children than parents," said Jonas Himmelstrand, president of ROHUS, the Swedish Homeschool Association.
"They [the government] are slowly going to more of a police state, where children are more controlled. They have to be in school," he added.
Freedom in Finland
Himmelstrand and his wife Tamara were threatened with tens of thousands of dollars' worth of fines for home-schooling. The family slipped quietly out of the country and is beginning a new life in Finland.
"We had many friends tell us, 'Please get out, we're worried about you,'" Himmselstrand recalled.
Home-schooling parents Magnus and Cina Wallen-Henriksen worked in the music industry in Stockholm before fleeing to Finland.
"We were afraid to stay. Our children were in danger and our family was in danger," Cina said.
"The choice [to leave] was quite easy to make," Magnus added.
Most Swedish home-schoolers don't make the decision for religious reasons, but because they see the educational and social development home schooling provides.
"We noticed our children are enjoying how they learn at home and in other places," Cina explained. "Our children developed fast and good, both emotionally and social and intellectual."
Before 2010, it was possible to home-school in Sweden. But new laws now ban the practice in almost all cases and forces private schools to teach the state curriculum.
Swedish human rights lawyer Ruby Harrold-Claesson calls what's happening in Sweden a "parental inquisition."
"Sweden's treatment of parents in the area of education is totalitarian, essentially. They want to take children from birth to graduation and control them," said Michael Donnelly, director of international relations at the Homeschool Legal Defense Association.
Donnelly claims Sweden's treatment of parents violates established standards of human rights.
"In fact, the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights signed in 1947 actually says ... that parents have a 'prior right' to decide the kind of education their children should have," he explained.
But Sweden's ambassador to the United States said, "The [Swedish] government does not find that home schooling is necessary for religious or philosophical reasons."
Fear of 'Indoctrination'
Parents are pressured to put their children in daycare at age one.
"One mother told me when she went with her 18 month son to his medical checkup, and he was not in daycare. They said, 'Oh, your son is not in daycare? But he has to go to daycare. He needs that and you need to work,'" Himmselstrand told CBN News.
"The argument they give about this is that every child has a 'right' to daycare. This is not a right that parents are allowed to interfere with."
Donnelly said there is a bad historical precedent for Sweden's control of children and education: the dictatorships of the last century.
"This seems to be what's happening in Sweden," he said. "They want to get the kids. They want to socialize them in the way they think is appropriate, and they don't want the parents involved."
Texan Lisa Angerstig married a Swede and lives in Uppsala with their four children. The couple is fighting fines levied over the home schooling of their son.
"Sweden does not believe it's a parent's right to choose how you raise your children, period," Angerstig said. "They believe if you're keeping your children at home, it's possible you're indoctrinating them."
She believes the Swedish government's actions prove it believes parents are a negative influence on their children.
'No More Housewives'
A major issue for the Swedish government is gender equality.
The motto for a leading educator in the country states, "Sweden: No more housewives, but higher wages for women."
Tamara Himmelstrand said she used to experience the daily disapproval of stay-at-home moms in Sweden.
"The incredible disdain Swedish society has for motherhood and the work that I was doing [made me feel like a bad person]," she said.
But Sweden's experiment with state control of children and families does not seem to be going so well. The Swedish government's own report shows the psychological health of Swedish youth is declining faster than in 11 comparable European countries.
"And this is being discussed [by experts]," Jonas Himmselstrand said. "Why are Swedish young people so psychologically unhealthy, so full of anxiety, so easily depressed?"
"If you ask any developmental psychologist in Sweden who is into this question, they would say, 'You know, it has a likely connection to the fact that 93 percent of all 18 month to 5-year-olds are in daycare, often for many hours a day," he continued.
Educational test scores have dropped as well.
"Sweden is one of the richest countries in the world. Our children should be doing absolutely the best of any country in the world, but they're not," Himmselstrand said.
The home-school families who have sacrificed so much by fleeing Sweden say it is a relief to finally be able to teach their children in freedom.
But what about the nation they left behind? One European Union study suggests Swedish family policy is making the nation's adults worse parents.
Dale Hurd also reported from Uppsala, Sweden and Mariehamn, Finland.