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Youth poverty, exclusion should be avoided

Social workers are encountering more and more youngsters who feel excluded from Swiss society

(Keystone)

Swiss Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin has warned society could be sitting on a time bomb if it doesn't do more to help youngsters avoid poverty and exclusion.

More and more children are considered to be at risk from pauperisation in Switzerland, while many teenagers are failing to gain access to the job market.

Couchepin said in Biel on Friday that the authorities could not ignore the problems faced by part of the population, even if 97 per cent of the country's inhabitants were doing alright.

He added that the fact that just three per cent of the population needed some kind of social aid was an invitation to find ways of helping these people. Couchepin said that specialists should probably focus on three domains: education, family-friendly policies and extra-curricular activities.

"A lack of education is leading cause of poverty," admitted the interior minister, calling on the authorities at all levels to pay closer attention to the social integration of youngsters. "Otherwise we will be lighting the fuse of a social bomb that could very well blow up one day."

Difficulties

More and more children are dependent on social aid in Switzerland, according to the Federal Commission for Children and Youth Affairs. Youngsters are also finding it increasingly difficult to enter the job market.

Besides financial issues, these youngsters also suffer from educational deficiencies, health problems and difficulties finding their place in society. "We have to break the taboo surrounding youth exclusion and poverty in this country," said commission member Chantal Ostorero.

Poverty faced by youngsters can do real social damage in the medium and long term warned commission president Pierre Maudet. He said it was time for the older generations to show their solidarity with the younger ones by making the right social, economic and educational decisions.

Appropriate family policies, allowing parents to juggle family and professional life, are considered one way of fighting poverty and social exclusion. Having children is considered by many specialists to be a major financial burden for households.

To improve children's social integration, there also has to be a massive increase in the number of crèche and daycare places. "There are 30,000 places now, and we need another 50,000," said Maudet.

Other solutions focus on education. Specialists say the selection process inherent to the various school systems should be revised, with each youngster given a better chance to acquire new knowledge and earn a certificate.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Having children can lead to pauperisation according to the Federal Office for Social Security.

Single parents, of whom the majority are women, and young families with several children, are particularly at risk, even if one of the parents is in full-time employment.

In 2003, one fifth of households with three or more children fell into the category of "working poor".

One single parent in five was also in a similar situation.

At the time, 233,000 children were considered to live in a "working poor" family.

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