The Swiss authorities have set up an international service designed to help protect children in cases of adoption, as well as abduction, in a bid to bring current Swiss legislation in line with international conventions regarding the protection of children.
One of the major aims of the new Office for the International Protection of Children, based in Bern, is to bolster Swiss laws so they reflect regulations contained in The Hague's 1993 Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Inter-country Adoption.
"The goal of the service is to put under one organisational structure the various central authorities provided by The Hague's 1993 convention," Martin Romann, the head of the new Swiss office, told swissinfo.
These include the child kidnapping, adoption and the 1996 Convention for Protection of Children central authorities, Romann said.
Switzerland plans to ratify the adoption convention by mid-2002, when the new central authority for adoption is functioning both at the cantonal and federal level.
Involvement of authority
"The aim is that children who are to be adopted should be protected by an authority in so far as the authority would accompany the adoption proceedings," Romann said. This is important, he continued, because "we believe that the involvement of the authority is necessary to protect the best interests of the child in an adoption proceeding."
Under the guidelines provided for in the 1993 adoption convention, the cantonal central authority would first check the suitability of the potential parents and then care for that child.
In cases where a child is adopted from abroad, "the partner central authority in the country of the child's origin would look at the child's situation and check whether an adoption would be the best solution for them," Romann explained.
Further, the partner authority would evaluate the sort of parents best suited to the child.
The Swiss central authority for child abduction was set up several years ago after Switzerland ratified the relevant convention. The office liases with other central authorities and is involved in mediation activities with parents.
103 kidnapping cases
Some 103 kidnapping cases were reported in 2000, according to Romann. "Sixty-nine children were kidnapped from Switzerland and 34 foreign children were kidnapped into Switzerland," Romann continued.
"In the case of a kidnapping, the office would first discover the whereabouts of the child and take measures to prevent further harm to them," Romann said. The next step would be to try to negotiate an agreement with the parents for the voluntary return of the child.
It would then be the responsibility of the office to obtain the necessary regulations that could be used by the courts that take decisions on whether the child has to return to their country.
"The United States is the country to whom and from whom children are mostly abducted," Romann said. Italy, France, Portugal and Spain rank next on the list.
Romann could not specify the office's budget, but said their funds came from the justice ministry.