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Couchepin moots reform of youth policy

Keystone

Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin has called for increased extra-curricular youth activities in an effort to assist young people integrate into society.

This content was published on September 2, 2008 - 17:55

He said reforms were needed to reflect the changed role of parents in education and to offer the young generation other positive role models.

Couchepin, who is also Swiss president this year, was speaking during his traditional annual media walk outside the capital, Bern, on Tuesday.

Military service, youth crime and violence, mass drinking events and integration of foreigners – a relaxed Couchepin touched on all of these questions in a wide-ranging speech and discussion on the theme of youth.

Looking back to the excesses of totalitarian regimes in 20th century Europe, Couchepin said they had exploited the youth to serve their own purposes.

He said there were lessons to be learned from the ill-conceived social policy of taking children from nomad families in Switzerland – a practice that went on until the early 1970s.

"We have to take into account the danger of making far-reaching decisions for others".

Couchepin recalled that he had spent several hours in the company of young offenders on Swiss National Day on August 1.

"We had a raclette together and what really struck me was how perfectly normal they seemed," he said.

He pointed out that the roots of problem behaviour were much more complex than the social background of the young people.

"There is no such thing as a typical young offender," he said.

Reputation

His views were backed by Marlis Buchmann, a sociologist from Zurich University. She said the majority of teenagers and young adults were better educated, had more social skills and were more productive than their reputation.

Only a small minority are different, she added.

The government wants the federal authorities to play a greater role in promoting extra-curricular youth activities, but without interfering in the autonomy of the country's 26 cantons.

In its report the cabinet calls for legal guidelines, which allow the federal authorities to promote awareness of the rights of the child and prevention against abuse.

It also aims to encourage children and teenagers from all social classes to take an active interest in politics, notably by taking part in session of youth assemblies.

The government is due to publish a second report on youth and crime next year.

Revolutionaries

Couchepin, a member of the centre-right Radical Party, chose a historic village for this year's media walk.

Zimmerwald was host to an international conference of socialists in 1915, organised under the cover of a bird watchers meeting.

As Couchepin pointed out, Russian revolutionaries Lenin and Trotsky attended the gathering, which failed to reach a consensus for the socialist movement.

Previous media outings took place on a peninsula in Lake Biel, where the French writer and author, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, spent several weeks in 1765.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Youth organisations have criticised the government's proposals, calling for a more coherent strategy to coordinate the policies of the federal and cantonal authorities.

They said it was not enough to give the federal government a greater say in youth matters.

The government's advisory committee on youth said it hoped the report would prompt a widespread debate.

The main political parties gave the report a mixed review.

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