UN slams Swiss for failing to protect children

Unicef says Switzerland must ban all forms of corporal punishment Keystone

A report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) has revealed that 11 children under the age of 15 die each year in Switzerland from mistreatment.

This content was published on September 18, 2003 - 17:00

The study criticised Swiss child protection laws as inadequate, because they fail to penalise some types of violence, such as corporal punishment.

Entitled “Child Maltreatment Deaths in Rich Nations”, the report - the first to assess violence against children in developed countries - found that the subject was still a taboo in most countries.

Unicef said all violence against children should be outlawed.

“There’s huge hesitance from politicians to intervene in this,” said Peter Newell, one of the authors of the report.

“The policies of zero tolerance for violence against women have not yet been extended to cover children.”

Katrin Hartmann, managing director of the Child Protection Switzerland, told swissinfo she was pleased that such a report was now available, saying there was little research in Switzerland on the subject.

“Switzerland cannot sit back and say: ‘This is not a problem that concerns us’,” she said.

“It shows clearly that Switzerland has to intensify its efforts to reduce violence against children.”

Stronger laws

Only seven developed countries – Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Norway and Sweden – have laws which explicitly ban corporal punishment against children.

Hartmann said her organisation was lobbying for a law in Switzerland that would specifically forbid corporal punishment against children.

“In Switzerland we don’t have a big lobby fighting for children. A lot of other problems seem more important.”

In July the Swiss Federal Court warned parents that repeated or habitual corporal punishment was not an acceptable means of punishing children.

However, the court’s announcement was merely a clarification of existing law and not a specific prohibition of corporal punishment.

Corporal punishment

Current Swiss legislation states that any individual who hits someone can be punished, regardless of the amount of physical harm caused.

But the law does not clarify at which point violence is unacceptable as a form of punishment against children.

“We pretend that children are equal holders of human rights, but when it comes to action we’re not there yet,” said Newell.

“People have completely contradictory attitudes to children, and so slapping a child is still regarded as socially and legally acceptable.”

The report ranked Switzerland 15th out of 27 industrialised countries in terms of the number of child deaths as a result of mistreatment.

The report found that 27 children in the United States die each week from mistreatment. Meanwhile, in France, three children die per week, compared with two in Britain and Germany.

But Newell warned against reading too much into the rankings, saying some countries might have a more accurate system of recording deaths.

swissinfo, Joanne Shields

In brief

The Unicef report said Swiss laws should go further and completely ban corporal punishment for children.

Swiss law currently states repeated violence against children is a punishable offence, but does not definitively prohibit corporal punishment.

The report ranked Switzerland 15th out of 27 countries in terms of child deaths as a result of mistreatment.

Switzerland ratified the United Nations Convention on Children’s Rights in 1997.

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