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Parliament boosts efforts over child abduction

(Keystone Archive)

The Swiss government faces calls by parliament to set up an alarm system to track down abducted children following the disappearance of a girl more than two months ago.

Moves are also underway within the European Union to coordinate action as ministers gave cautious backing for cross-border alerts.

The Swiss House of Representatives on Wednesday came out unanimously in favour of proposals demanding the introduction of an alert system using mobile phones and involvement by the public to find missing children.

Such a system had successfully been implemented in the United States, Canada and France, said Social Democratic parliamentarian Vreni Hubmann.

More than 90 per cent of the Swiss population had mobile phones making it an effective tool to involve the public in the alert system, she added.

The proposal, which still has to be debated by the Senate at a later date, also foresees the use of electronic media, including the internet, as well as signboards at stations, airports and border posts and along motorways.

The government agreed to take action, but pointed out that the country's 26 cantonal authorities are responsible for criminal proceedings in the matter of presumed abductions of children.

It said it was examining similar alert systems in place in other countries. Justice Minister Christoph Blocher is due to meet cantonal police and justice directors in November to discuss the issue.

Last May the Fredi foundation, a private group set up more than ten years ago to search for missing children, launched a petition calling for better coordination between cantonal police forces.

In a related development, the House also approved a government proposal to improve the legal protection of children who have been abducted by one of their parents. The aim is to speed up the repatriation of a child and help solve disputes between estranged spouses.

Europe-wide

The decisions come just a day after EU ministers agreed to coordinate alerts for abducted children, which could involve media campaigns and an electronic list of missing children accessible to judicial and police authorities.

However, ministers said the alerts would be limited to the most serious cases and would not automatically be sent to all 27 member states. Switzerland is not a member of the EU.

Countries would keep their own alert systems but coordinate when to use them, according to ministers meeting in Lisbon.

"It should be useful in a limited geographical area," said the Portuguese justice minister, Alberto Costa.

The disappearance of a four-year old girl from Britain, Madeleine McCann, in May triggered an international search and a high-profile media campaign.

The case of the five-year-old Ylenia who went missing in Switzerland at the end of July and was found dead more than six weeks later, also attracted public attention and made headlines.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

1,593 children were reported missing in Switzerland in 2006 and 1,109 in 2005, according to police.
Most of them are "runaways" and are soon found.

end of infobox

Ylenia case

Five-year old Ylenia disappeared from Appenzell in northeastern Switzerland at the end of July.

Police soon found her personal belongings and clothes in a forest, but her corpse was only discovered in mid-September.

In the same area police officers came upon the body of a man who had apparently turned the gun on himself. He had earlier allegedly shot and wounded a passer-by.

The dead man was identified as a 67-year-old Swiss who had lived in Spain with his wife since 1990.

end of infobox


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