Tens of thousands of children and young people in Switzerland were affected by compulsory social measures and placements right up until 1981. In many cases, they experienced severe suffering, which directly and seriously impaired their physical, psychological or sexual integrity or mental development. They were subjected to the following, in particular:
- Children – known as Verdingkinder or "contract children" – were forced to work on farms and exploited as cheap labour, where they experienced tremendous physical and/or psychological abuse; they were often even sexually abused.
- Children and adolescents were placed in strictly run residential institutions (homes) where they were abused.
- People whose lifestyle did not conform to the socially accepted norm were placed in administrative detention, in labour institutions or even penal institutions (i.e. without criminal judgment) by the guardianship authorities.
- Young women were put under enormous psychological pressure and forced to agree to abortion, sterilisation, or adoption of one or more of their children.
- Some of those affected by compulsory social measures were also subjected to medical experimentation with untested substances or administered medication against their will or without their knowledge.
In 2010, Federal Councillor Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf apologised on behalf of the Federal Council for the great suffering inflicted on those who had been placed in administrative detention. In 2013, this was followed by Federal Councillor Simonetta Sommaruga’s apology to all the victims of compulsory social measures and placements. This set in motion a process to address this difficult chapter of Swiss social history; it is still being dealt with to this day.
An important step in this process was the drafting of the Federal Act on Compulsory Social Measures and Placements prior to 1981 (CSMPA). It was passed by Parliament with a clear majority and came into force on 1 April 2017. The Federal Office of Justice’s Compulsory Social Measures and Placements Unit (CSMP Unit) is responsible at federal level for enforcing the CSMPA, which creates the framework for a thorough investigation into the compulsory social measures and placements made in Switzerland prior to 1981, both for the individuals concerned and for society as a whole. A key element of this is acknowledging and providing redress for the injustice done to the victims.
The law provides for various measures in this regard:
- the payment of a solidarity contribution of CHF 25 000 per victim
- counselling and support through cantonal contact points and archives for victims and other persons affected
- other support measures for the benefit of victims (in particular, self-help projects)
- an academic inquiry into the subject matter.
Last modification 26.07.2023