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Mixed feelings Church makes gesture for past child labour victims

Money collected at recent Catholic church services in Switzerland will be offered to victims of the foster care system from the 1940s to 1980s, who were taken from their parents and forced to work. (SRF/

Up until the 1980s, tens of thousands of Swiss children were placed in foster care, often on farms, because their families were deemed by the authorities to be incapable of caring for them. They were sometimes beaten, malnourished, or sexually abused. 

The system was sanctioned by the state and the Catholic church.

Unmarried teenage mothers could be detained without trial or interned in psychiatric hospitals right up until the 1980s. The authorities sometimes even decreed that the adults should be castrated or sterilised and forced to hand their children over for adoption.

In 2013, the Swiss justice minister apologised on behalf of the cabinet for the harm suffered by victims. A crisis assistance fund of CHF5.7 million was set up with contributions from the cantons, municipalities and other organisations. 

It is estimated that up to 15,000 victims of the forced labour and sterilisation policies are still alive. For many of them, the compensation offered so far is not enough. They have launched a people’s initiative for a restitution package of about CHF500 million. 

In April 2013, Bishop Markus Büchel, President of the the Swiss Bishops Conference, apologised for the church sanctioning the ‘discarded children’ system. The Conference is set to discuss setting up a separate fund for victims of sexual abuses carried out within the church.

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