Experts call for state pension for child labourers

Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga (centre) addressing the members of the expert panel Keystone

A panel of experts has recommended granting state-funded compensation to victims of Switzerland's former harsh welfare system. Meanwhile campaigners are collecting signatures for a nationwide vote on the issue of exploited children.

This content was published on July 2, 2014 - 14:05 and agencies

Among a raft of suggested measures, the expert group report recommends  that pensions should be paid from a state fund to the victims of controversial ‘care’ practices that continued up to the early 1980s. Up to 15,000 people may qualify. 

A charitable hardship fund for victims in financial difficulty will begin making one-off payments to applicants from September. It was introduced as a temporary solution until a legal basis for state-funded compensation can be put in place. 

The report, commissioned by the justice ministry, recommends setting up a solidarity fund, to finance one-off payments and monthly contributions to make up for the disadvantages suffered by the victims. 

However, the experts stopped short of specifying an amount for the compensation.

The panel also calls for the public recognition of the injustice done to children taken away from their parents, often on moral grounds, and to those who were placed in ‘administrative care’, incarcerated without a court ruling or a psychiatric assessment. 

Some were removed from society for being unmarried and pregnant, many were put under pressure to give up their babies for adoption. Other women and men were deprived of their freedom for “licentiousness”, “drunkenness” or for being “work shy”.

For many decades, children in care were often placed with foster parents in rural regions where they were made to work as farm labourers.

The report comes 18 months after the government apologised to the victims and set up a round table made up of representatives from the victims, institutions and the government.

Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga pledged to examine the recommendations and put forward possible measures for the government to approve.

“Financial compensation is part of it,” she said.

Parliament is likely to begin discussions of the proposals next year.


A victim pressure group has welcomed the recommendations but it is sceptical about the willingness of politicians to take action.

“Words are not enough. This time we need real compensation for the exploited children and the victims of administrative detention,” a statement said.

The group said previous efforts to rehabilitate victims of administrative detention or to financially compensate women and men who had been forcibly sterilised had failed.

Rather than risk an unsatisfactory outcome, the organisation started collecting the necessary signatures for a nationwide vote on its own proposal -  a  compensation scheme to the tune of CHF500 million ($564 million) and a review of one of the darkest chapters in the history of Switzerland’s welfare state that officially ended in 1981.

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