New guidelines on protecting children, in particular small children, have been agreed by the Swiss parliament. The House of Representatives and the Senate have approved the initiative which has been supported by the Swiss justice minister, Simonetta Sommaruga.
During the debate, Sommaruga and other advocates of the initiative referred to the large number of children who fall victim to physical and mental abuse in Switzerland. Every year, 1,500 children need to be treated in hospital for symptoms resulting from such abuse. Half of these children are below the age of six, a quarter are below the age of two.
Every child abuse case is one too many, Sommaruga said. She said she hoped the initiative would encourage more people to come forward to the Swiss Child and Adult Protection Authority with their concerns and would therefore go some way to remedying the existing problem.
The new guidelines will mean it is no longer just the people officially in charge of a child’s welfare, such as teachers and social workers, who are obliged to notify the authorities in the case of suspected abuse, but anyone who is in regular contact with a child, such as day-care staff or sports coaches.
This measure is intended to strengthen the protection, particularly of young children, who are rarely in contact with officials.
Another significant change that will be brought about by the initiative concerns doctors, lawyers and psychologists.
Until now, these professionals have been unable to contact the authorities due to doctor-patient or lawyer-client confidentiality issues if they suspected abuse. With the new guidelines, they will be able to contact the protection agency despite their professional confidentiality.
Doctors and psychologists will even be able to assist the authorities in establishing the facts of a suspected abuse.
Both parliamentary houses emphasised that no hard facts would be required to contact the authorities, and that actions would not necessarily follow in every case. The authorities should simply be the first port of call for anyone to report any concerns, parliament said.
“We welcome these measures because they will contribute to improving the protection of children in Switzerland,” chairman Thomas Büchler told swissinfo.ch.
“Overwhelmed parents and children at high risk of abuse need appropriate support as early as possible. Encouraging professionals who are regularly in contact with children to notify the authorities in potential risk situations ensures that we are able to provide the necessary protection a child may need in time.”