8 June 2021

Report to UNO: Switzerland does not sufficiently implement children's rights

Wilson Palace
Wilson Palace

In the latest report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Switzerland receives poor marks. The Children's Rights Network Switzerland, of which terre des hommes switzerland is a member, states: The federal government and the cantons are far from respecting all the needs and rights of their children and young people. The Network makes five demands on the Confederation and the cantons. 

Too little say in court, poverty, inadequate housing and violence - Switzerland, of all places, where the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child resides, gets a poor report card for the protection of its minors with this list. The Children's Rights Network Switzerland (NKS) regularly submits a report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, and this week the latest findings are being presented. The alliance, of which terre des hommes switzerland is a member along with numerous other organisations and which is chaired by our colleague Valentina Darbellay, formulates five demands to the federal government and the cantons: 

Violence in the family should be banned and protection extended 

Every second child experiences physical or psychological and every fifth even severe violence in their upbringing. Violence within the family is not explicitly prohibited in Switzerland. Yet the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Switzerland has also ratified, states that violence against children is in no way justified. This is why the Children's Rights Network Switzerland demands: "The right to a non-violent upbringing must therefore be anchored in the Civil Code." This is already the case in most neighbouring European countries. 

But this is not enough to curb violence against children. The protection of children urgently needs to be expanded. In early detection and prevention, the services and offers of some cantons are not sufficient. The Swiss Children's Rights Network also calls for more commitment from the federal government in helping and protecting children and young people.  

No child should have to live in poverty 

Children in poverty have a worse start in life, writes the NCP. "Children who grow up in poverty experience material disadvantage, social exclusion and have poorer educational opportunities". This disadvantage sticks with the children for a long time: "The children often remain poor into adulthood," the NCP writes further. 

In Switzerland, according to the Federal Statistical Office (FSO), 108,000 children are affected and a further 155,000 live just above the poverty line. The NCP calls for nationwide supplementary benefits for families, as some cantons already offer. Because the cause of child poverty "are high maintenance costs, low incomes of parents and a lack of opportunities to reconcile work and family life."  

Adequate accommodation and care for refugee children 

Families seeking asylum in Switzerland are not always accommodated in suitable premises. "There is a lack of child-friendly spaces, nurturing and play facilities for younger children, and support for parents with children in the asylum centres," writes the NCP. Asylum-seeking families often go through a lot. Around half of all underage asylum seekers therefore suffer from psychological stress. The network therefore calls for "family- and child-friendly accommodation and care for refugee children" as well as low-threshold psychosocial services. 

Refugee children should also be able to benefit from the education on offer, regardless of their residence status. The same demand was formulated by the first Swiss Refugee Parliament last Sunday to the Federal Council and Parliament. A corresponding proposal was rejected by the Council of States this year. 

Children must be heard 

Children and adolescents must be able to testify in court in family disputes - such as divorce - and be involved in proceedings. This is what the Convention on the Rights of the Child says. Judges are supposed to take children's opinions, views and wishes into account in the judgment. Although the Swiss Civil Code prescribes precisely this, in reality children's voices often go unheard in court. 

The NCP writes: "With joint parental care as the rule, the pressure on children to meet the concerns of both parents increases. Also, the courts' ideas of favourable family development conditions are often conservative and the (bonding) needs and statements of the children are ignored." This also applies to migration and asylum proceedings. 

Up to now, there has been no ombudsman's office to which children and young people could turn in such cases. A motion to this effect has already been passed by parliament. 

Less "cantonalism" and meaningful data 

The well-being of children continues to be strongly linked to the family's place of residence and socio-economic background. There are major differences between the cantons in the low-threshold support services and in the quality and speed with which child welfare is endangered. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has already recommended that cantonal specialists coordinate their efforts in child protection cases. The Federal Council also considers this to be urgent, but does not wish to define a comprehensive, Switzerland-wide strategy in this regard. The NCP demands: "A national strategy is needed for the areas of violence prevention, access to support services for families, quality of institutional care and foster care places". 

Further shortcomings in the implementation of children's rights should be identified as easily and quickly as possible. However, this is only possible with comprehensive and meaningful data. The federal system stands in the way of this, because "different cantonal terms and concepts for data collection on important children's rights issues make comparability difficult", the NCP states. The network therefore calls for comparable data across Switzerland on the protection, development and participation of children and young people in Switzerland. 

terre des hommes switzerland supports these demands 

In all our project countries - including Switzerland - the protection of children's rights is a central concern. We encourage children and young people to stand up for their rights and, together with our partners in Latin America and Africa, offer support in cases of violence. In Switzerland, we raise awareness among children and adolescents with our projects Baobab, TDH Éducation and imagine for children's rights issues. In the project MePower we promote the participation of refugee youth in Switzerland and provide psychosocial support. As a member of the Children's Rights Network Switzerland, we support these demands for a better implementation of children's rights in Switzerland.

To the media release of the Children's Rights Network Switzerland

Picture of Palais Wilson in Geneva (headquarters of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child): Flickr/U.S. Mission Geneva/ Eric Bridiers CC BY-ND 2.0

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