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Social Welfare and Families

The family, in all its variety of forms, is the basic unit of society. Both the state and local authorities have various obligations to promote the well-being of every family, taking their differing needs and circumstances into consideration. Among those areas which fall under Social Welfare and Families are children's affairs, matters in connection with marriage and co-habitation, child abduction, adoption, disabled, senior citizens' and municipalities' social services.

The Municipalities' Social Services Act, No. 40/1991, is part of the mandate of the Ministry of Social Affairs. However, each municipality is responsible for providing services for residents under the Act. The same applies to services for the handicapped, which are provided by municipalities under the Act on the Affairs of Disabled Persons, No. 59/1992. Safeguarding the rights of the disabled is dealt with specifically in the Act on Protection of the Rights of Disabled Persons, No. 88/2011.

Senior citizens are entitled to services pursuant to the Municipalities' Social Services Act, however, services for seniors are also provided for specifically in the Act on the Affairs of the Elderly, No. 125/1999.

Provision is made for payments to parents in the Act on Maternity/Paternity and Parental Leave, No. 95/2000. The objective is to ensure children enjoy the care of both parents and to enable both women and men to combine family life and their career. Applications of maternity/paternity and parental leave are made to the Maternity/Paternity Leave Fund, which is under the auspices of the Directorate of Labour.

Children's affairs

The rights of children, their protection and their welfare are dealt with in a number of Acts, as they are a vulnerable group which it is important to protect especially. Among the tasks are child protection, laws regarding children, child benefits, adoption, child abduction etc.

The Ministry of Social Affairs is the ultimate authority in matters of child protection. On behalf of the Ministry, the The National Agency for Children and Families is in charge of day-to-day administration of child protection services. The basic unit for child protection in Iceland is the local child protection committee which is responsible for child protection services at the municipal level.

In 2013 the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child became law in Iceland. The Convention provides for various basic rights and ensures special protection and care for all children under 18 years of age. Emphasis is also placed on the right of all children to be full participants in the community and to be heard, although they do not enjoy all of the same rights as adults.

Children's rights

The Child Protection Act, No. 80/2002, is aimed at ensuring children in unacceptable home circumstances or whose health or development is threatened receive the necessary support. Efforts are made to achieve the objectives of the Act by providing support to families for raising children and applying remedies to protect individual children.

The Children's Act, 76/2003 deals with the rights of children, parents and custody, child support, parental and family access, and other issues. No child may be subjected to any type of violence or other humiliating conduct. A child has the right to express an opinion in all matters concerning him/her and legitimate consideration shall be given to such opinions, having regard the child's age and maturity. Priority shall always be given to what is best for the child when decisions are taken in the child's affairs. 

Marriage and co-habitation

Marriage is primarily a civil institution. The Marriage Act defines this recognised form of joint habitation, stating who may marry and what conditions are to be set for marrying. Marriage also has specific legal effects. There is no comprehensive legislation on co-habiting partners in Iceland and the legal effects of co-habiting are not the same as for marriage. Persons who share the same domicile and are not married or do not have an unknown marital status can register as co-habiting partners with Registers Iceland.

Child Abduction

Iceland is a party to two international conventions intended to ensure the interests of children who have been wrongfully removed from one member state to another. These are the European Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Decisions concerning Custody of Children and on Restoration of Custody of Children which was concluded in Luxembourg on 20 May 1980 (the  European Convention), and the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, concluded on 25 October 1980 (the Hague Convention).


The Ministry of Justice is responsible for legislation and regulations concerning adoptions in Iceland, policymaking, accreditation and supervision of adoption organizations. The Ministry is the Central Authority under the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Inter-country Adoption of 1993. The Ministry supervises the implementation of the Convention in Iceland, as well as accredited adoption organizations. It is also an appeal instance when the District Commissioner in the Capital Region, which is an administrative authority under the Ministry of Justice, has rejected an application for domestic adoption or an advance approval for adoption of a foreign child.

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