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Foundation aids children caught in the crossfire

The International Social Service (ISS) assists children worldwide Keystone

A Swiss organisation specialising in cross-border custody battles and international adoptions says it dealt with more than 40 child abductions last year.

This content was published on October 8, 2004 - 13:30

The Swiss Foundation of the International Social Service (SFISS) handled around 900 cases in total involving children in 2003.

According to its annual report published on Friday, staff handled around 1,000 consultations over the phone in 2003.

While child abductions tend to grab the headlines, director Rolf Widmer said they only represented a small but important part of the SFISS’s work.

The non-governmental organisation’s main role is to act as a mediator when it comes to visiting and custody rights, and helping couples with international adoption.

The SFISS, which has offices in Geneva and Zurich, also assists adopted children in retracing their roots.

Another area where the foundation is particularly active is in organising travel in Switzerland and abroad for unaccompanied refugee children.

History

The Swiss foundation, which belongs to an international network of social services spanning 140 countries, receives financial support in the form of donations and contributions from cantons and municipalities.

It was set up in 1932 thanks to an initiative by Switzerland and the United States to help Swiss emigrants to America.

The organisation helped new arrivals to settle in their host country and keep in touch with relatives back home.

Gradually more countries took up the idea, which resulted in an international network being formed after the Second World War.

In 1946 the International Social Service was founded, bringing all the various national branches under one umbrella.

The SFISS works closely with local organisations, embassies, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the United Nations.

Child protection

In the aftermath of the Second World War, child protection became one of the foundation’s main concerns.

“Any child’s rights should be represented properly,” said Widmer.

This principle is written down in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, but many countries do not adhere to it.

But the SFISS says the convention, which is based on western European law, is not always easy to put into practice.

“Children in Islamic countries, for instance, belong to their fathers’ families when they turn five,” said Widmer.

The SFISS is also involved in a project helping to find families for hundreds of illegitimate children born in Tunisia.

According to the foundation, children with foreign fathers are seen as a mark of disgrace for their Tunisian mothers and are often put in foster homes.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The Swiss Foundation of the International Social Service dealt with 894 cases in 2003.
42 of these concerned child abduction.
In addition, the SFISS advised about 1,000 people over the phone.
Around 140 countries belong to the International Social Service.

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In brief

The SFISS is heavily involved in protecting children beyond national borders.

The organisation acts as a mediator when divorced parents fight over custody and visiting rights.

The SFISS also supports projects regarding adoption and taking care of orphans

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