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Couchepin enters juvenile delinquent debate

Couchepin says youth should take responsibility for their actions Keystone

Interior minister Pascal Couchepin has spoken out against an anti-immigrant campaign which calls for the introduction of repressive measures to combat crime.

This content was published on February 25, 2007 - 12:43

Speaking in the French-language newspaper, Le Matin Dimanche, Couchepin rejected a proposal to deport entire families if an under-age family member commits a serious crime.

The minister for the centre-right Radical Party told the newspaper that he favoured deportation of foreign youths, but only when "serious crimes are committed". But, he emphasised, their families should not also be punished for their mistakes.

His comments come only days after a pressure group, "Safety for All", which is supported by the rightwing Swiss People's Party, handed in a 30,000-signature petition to the government calling for tougher action.

The group is alarmed by recent reports and statistics pointing to a rise in violence in urban areas and youth crime.

More than 14,000 youths - overwhelmingly males - were convicted of crimes in 2005. The figure was up about 2,000 on 1999. More than one-third of the youths committing crimes were foreigners even though this group accounts for only 20 per cent of the Swiss population.

There was a public outcry when details were revealed last year of three alleged sexual assaults by youths on schoolchildren.

Safety for All received additional support for its campaign when the police chief of canton Zurich backed its call for troublesome families to be deported.

Zurich saw a ten per cent fall in crime last year, but a three per cent increase in youth crime, with police chief Bernhard Herren singling out young people of Balkan origin as the main culprits, representing 52.6 per cent.

In detail, Safety for All's petition demands tougher custodial sentences for young criminals, deportation, foreign parents to be held accountable in the case of minors and compulsory citizenship tests before Swiss passports are granted.

Election campaign

Couchepin said he was alarmed by what he called the People's Party's attempt to win votes in an election year by constructing an amalgam of violence, youth and foreigners.

"But if violence is on the increase," Couchepin said, "it's among young Swiss."

He also said he was opposed to a plan supported by the centre-right Christian Democrats to list ethnic origin of convicted criminals who have become naturalised citizens.

On Saturday, the head of the Federal Commission for Foreigners, Francis Mathey, told the Matin newspaper that better integration of foreigners was needed to combat crime, but that integration was a two-way street.

"If we want national cohesion it will be necessary for the authorities to find a way to change the mentality of the Swiss," he concluded.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

14,106 youths (11,189 boys and 2,917 girls) were convicted of crimes in 2005, according to the Federal Statistics Office. The figure is up about 2,000 on 1999.

62.7% of the convicted youths are of Swiss nationality.

The number of convictions for driving offences, attacks against people and property-related crimes has been on the increase since 1999.

But the authorities recorded a drop in the number of drug-related offences.

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