In Dialogue with Switzerland, Committee on the Rights of the Child Asks about Coordination, Data Collection, and the Rights of Children with Disabilities
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today concluded its consideration of the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Switzerland under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, with Committee Experts asking about coordination in the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child between national and cantonal levels, the set-up of a national system for data-gathering, and inclusive education for children with disabilities.
Committee Experts asked the delegation about issues including discrimination faced by vulnerable youth and the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals when it came to children. The situation of children in alternative care was discussed, as was statelessness and the situation of minor asylum seekers. Committee Experts inquired about education for children with disabilities, and asked for details about the forms of support provided to children with disabilities.
The delegation stressed there was a great deal of coordination between Switzerland’s authorities to implement youth policies. Federal level provided financial and expert support to the cantons, and a task force had been created to deal with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children and young people. A platform named “Casadata” had been set up to provide data on children in alternative care. Despite the challenges of the federal system, regional competencies in the area of youth and children allowed for local, tailor-made solutions.
The delegation of Switzerland consisted of representatives of the Confederation (the central government) as well as the cantons (regional governments). It further included the President and representatives of the Conference of Cantonal Directors of Social Affairs; the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Directors of Public Education; the Federal Office of Social Insurance; the Federal Office of Justice; the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs; the State Secretariat for Migration; the Federal Office of Police; the Federal Office of Public Health; and the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public at 3:00 p.m. on Friday, September 24 to close its eighty-eight session.
The Committee had before it the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Switzerland (CRC/C/CHE/5-6).
Presentation of the Report
In presenting the report, STEPHAN CUENI, Vice-Director, Head of the International Affairs Domain of the Federal Social Insurance Office and head of the delegation, said that reports reflected the state of Swiss law and practice. They showed how Switzerland took into account the concluding observations of the Committee of 2015. Those reports were drawn up in collaboration with all the departments of the Swiss Confederation and its cantons. The reports also featured input from the Swiss Network for the Rights of the Child, which brought together the main civil society organizations in the field of children and young people. Responsibility for children's policy rested primarily with the cantons and municipalities. According to a report by the United Nations Children Fund Innocenti Center, Switzerland ranked fourth out of 41 European Union and OECD countries in child welfare, and 82 per cent of 15-year-old girls and boys had a high level of satisfaction with their life. More could be done to prevent violence against children and to mitigate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Degradation of the environment and its impact on youth was also a challenge. Switzerland in 2017 had acceded to the third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, establishing a procedure for the presentation of communications.
Recommendations of the Committee in 2015 had resulted in the Government's report of December 2018 comprising a set of 11 measures aimed at filling the gaps in its application of the Convention. In the Civil Code, new provisions on the right and the obligation to notify the child protection authority had been strengthened since 2019. The Swiss Nutrition Strategy 2017-2024 laid the foundations for a healthy lifestyle. In 2020, a federal bill on the protection of minors in film and video game sectors was presented. A task force had been created to deal with the impact of the pandemic on children and young people, including provisions for additional financial support from the Confederation to counselling services for children and young people. Everything had been done to avoid, as far as possible, the closure of schools.
NATHALIE BARTHOULOT, President of the Government of the Canton of Jura and President of the Conference of Cantonal Directors of Social Affairs, noted that Switzerland's federal system allowed for the emergence of new solutions at the local level, which were then imposed on a larger scale, such as child and youth policy. While solutions were implemented by cantons, the Swiss Confederation provided support at several levels. The pandemic showed that when necessary, the cantons were capable of reacting in an effective manner to protect the rights of children and young people. A task force responding to the COVID-19 pandemic had been rapidly created under the leadership of the Conference of Cantonal Directors of Social Affairs. One of its major current projects was on strengthening the participation of children and young people, as an implementation of article 12 of the Convention. The cantons were implementing measures to improve and facilitate the participation of children and young people.
Questions by the Experts
HYND AYOUBI IDRISSI, Coordinator of the Task Force for Switzerland, asked whether Switzerland had considered reviewing its reservations, bearing in mind the importance of the provisions subject to those reservations on the protection of children’s rights? On legislation, which measures had been taken or envisaged for better compliance by federal and cantonal laws with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its optional protocols?
While implementation of youth policy fell under the Cantons, there were some disparities in implementation, as noted by the Delegation. What measures were taken to have a coherent policy and strategy at the federal level that could be used as a reference point for cantonal policies?
What was the impact of the Government’s COVID-19 youth policy, including the option to involve children in the Task Force? What measures were taken to implement Sustainable Development Goals relating to rights of the child?
Was there any federal-level body in charge of coordinating the implementation of the Convention for the Rights of the Child at intersectoral, national and cantonal levels?
What measures were taken to ensure budgeting in line with a children’s rights-based approach?
On data gathering, it was noted that although some cantons were progressing, there was no centralized database. What measures was Switzerland planning to take in order to implement a national system for data gathering?
On independent follow-up mechanisms, Switzerland had approved the creation of a National Institution for Human Rights. Was there any idea for a regional or cantonal ombudsman to ensure follow-up?
There were shortcomings in the area of dissemination of information about the rights of the children under the Convention ; what was being done to raise awareness?
Switzerland had good cooperation with civil society, but were organizations representing the interests of children with disabilities included?
On business and children’s rights, while action plans had been adopted to implement United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, what happened to businesses that violated rights of the children? Which measures were taken to ensure the investigation of and redress for violations of children's rights?
LUIS ERNESTO PEDERNERA REYNA, Committee Member, asked whether legislation on statelessness covered children of undocumented parents?
As for the rights of children in the digital environment, Switzerland’s law on personal data was welcomed, but it did not mention the rights of children. That represented a missed opportunity to incorporate the Committee’s General comment No. 25 (2021) on children’s rights in relation to the digital environment.
Another expert asked about the principle of non-discrimination, as it continued to exist particularly when it came to access to education and healthcare. Quoting a study, the expert said that children experienced discrimination and ill-treatment . What measures were undertaken to allow victims to know about available information and overcome procedural obstacles? Were there plans to develop community policies to remove discrimination against children from vulnerable backgrounds?
On respecting the opinion of the child to be heard, did Switzerland have a plan to ensure that children fully enjoyed that right, particularly in asylum seeker situations?
Another question on discrimination asked for further clarification about common approaches across Switzerland to bring discrimination to an end. Was there a prevention strategy and if so, what were its major lines? There was no ban on violence in the family, according to the Committee’s information. Which services were provided to families experiencing violence?
Which measures were taken to protect the well-being of refugee children living in difficult housing situations?
According to studies, one in five children was confronted with physical or mental violence; which measures were taken to combat it?
What was being done to sustain fight against genital mutilation, and what was done to ensure social recovery of children who were victims?
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation said they would divide their responses between representatives from the federal and cantonal levels.
Answering the question on coordination, the Government had provided support to cantons for drafting laws, including financial support, and there was a very close cooperation between colleagues working on the subjects of children and youth. An electronic platform had been set up on child and youth policies. Several task groups had been created on youth, on public health and domestic violence, and they were all connected. There would be no budget cuts due to the pandemic; the budget for extracurricular activities for youth had been increased.
There was a great deal of coordination between the cantons and the Conference of Cantonal Directors of Social Affairs to implement policies. Coordination on children’s rights had been increased, particularly the right to participation. Task forces carried out research on the rights of youth.
In response to the question on data gathering, Switzerland had no national-level statistics on ill-treatment of children, but there were police statistics, which only concerned cases brought by the police. There was a federal law on assistance to victims of violence, so there were statistics on that, and it was provided in the report, despite the fact that it was divided among different agencies and cantons. More data-gathering had been done at the cantonal level over the past years.
On children in alternative care, a platform named “Casadata” had been set up to provide data on children staying in alternative care. In December 2019 a working group had been formed, which would publish a report on that topic at the end of 2022.
In response to the question asked about mediation, there were already many procedures in place at the cantonal and national level. Easy access to consultations was supported, and the cantonal level also provided mediation services for children, should they come into conflict with authorities. The setup of the mediation office at the national level was a priority for Switzerland.
On the right of children to be heard, Switzerland had continued training those working with children. In 2019, a list of existing documents on the protection of children’s rights had been available online and was now regularly updated, and available to all cantons.
Cantons were working with civil society when developing youth policies and non-governmental organizations were regularly invited and could present their inputs to policies. Events were organised for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex children, and the authorities were working to fight and prevent discrimination in that regard. As for cooperation with civil society on the subject of disabilities, a working group brought all stakeholders together and held two annual meetings in plenary. Non-governmental organizations always participated.
As for business sector measures undertaken in conformity with the rights of children, Switzerland had adopted a 2020-2023 National Action Plan on human rights and corporate social responsibility. Measures included combating exploitation of children within the supply chain. New legislative provisions concerned the obligations of the business sector, including their duty of diligence. The first forum organized online had brought together 200 people from trade unions, non-governmental organizations, and State representatives, to prevent any negative impact of business activities on human rights.
In response to the question on statelessness, Switzerland’s current law already granted extended protection to people who were considered stateless, so ratification of more instruments was not needed. Any stateless minor could present his or her case for naturalization. Switzerland’s Federal Council in 2020 had presented a report to review cases of undocumented children, including consideration of their access to schooling. The current legal framework was therefore suitable.
LUIS ERNESTO PEDERNERA REYNA, Committee Member, asked what was done to promote access to justice under the Sustainable Development Goals?
What was done to allow the repatriation of child combatants outside Swiss borders, specifically children in Syria with their parents?
Replies by the Delegation
In response to the question on housing for refugee children, the delegation said that asylum seekers were housed for 140 days following submission of their asylum application, and were then sent to cantons. Unaccompanied minor asylum seekers were housed in special institutions.
An Expert asked what the monitoring system was around children placed in foster care families? Were there national standards for quality of alternative care?
In some cantons, students with disabilities were sometimes excluded from public schools and had to go to private schools. What did Switzerland propose to do about that? Did children with autism have access to inclusive education? What did home care for autistic children entail? Could the delegation comment on the seeming lack of educated staff to assist children with autism?
Committee Experts asked a series of questions on health. Did children of migrants and refugees have access to paediatric care? What forms of support existed for young people battling online addiction, including gaming? Prescription drugs for children with attention deficit disorder seemed to be a problem, what was done to raise awareness on the side effects of medication? Which measures were taken to combat depression. which was a widespread issue?
HYND AYOUBI IDRISSI, Coordinator of the Task Force for Switzerland, asked what Switzerland was doing to combat cyber-bullying? Furthermore, what was done to strengthen access to rest, leisure and cultural activities for economically disadvantaged children?
Another expert noted that conditions across detention centres varied, and there was no system for monitoring. There was a lack of formal procedures for assessing the best interests of the child during the asylum procedure, as well as reports of children disappearing during the asylum procedure.
Replies by the Delegation
In response to questions, the delegation said the Government was seeking to improve data collection on female genital mutilation. Children who were victims of violence were covered by Swiss Federal Law. Victims were provided with counselling, aid, and mental support, and could ask for reparations under certain circumstances.
In response to questions about undocumented people, the delegation explained that the right to school attendance took precedence over all other administrative and police measures. Undocumented children could attend school and were entitled to do so. No undocumented child or child in an illegal situation should face a precarious school attendance situation.
As for placement of children in alternative care, who can take in children and under which conditions was subject to oversight by protection authorities, and the protection authority was subject to oversight by another institution in the canton. Since the entry into force of new laws on the protection of children, existing child protection services had evolved a great deal and were more professional.
On children with disabilities, the delegation stated that there was no longer segregation of children in different schools. But until 2004, Switzerland had sent children with disabilities to specialized classes. The new law adopted in 2004 allowed for a system of inclusion to be developed. Moving from a separatist system to a system of inclusion could not be done overnight. Teachers who now needed to teach children with special needs had to be properly trained, and there was still work to be done before all special classes disappeared. In 2019, 97 per cent of children with disabilities attended regular schools. In a few years, that figure would reach 100 per cent.
Committee Experts asked the delegation to specify whether integrated classes meant that children with disabilities were integrated into classrooms, or whether inclusive education meant an entire process to provide the same level of services to children with disabilities. Which measures did Switzerland plan to implement in schools so they would offer inclusive education, including physical and effective accessibility?
Experts also asked whether corporal punishment was explicitly banned by law.
What were Swiss authorities doing to eliminate genital mutilation among migrant communities, were offenders arrested and prosecuted, and was care provided to victims?
Replies by the Delegation
In response to questions about children with autism, the delegation said that insurance covered such children. Centres for early intervention provided intensive treatment for children with autism. There were nine centres in Switzerland, which were open centres where children did not spend the night. Specialists from the centres could go to children’s homes, in addition to children spending time in the centre. The number of professionals working with children with autism had increased. Switzerland had ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Switzerland had a programme on youth and media, consisting of activities aiming to protect youth from negative influence of media. For the educational component, coordination was done at the federal level. Regulatory components included the need to to protect children from media content and video games that had a negative impact on their development and well-being.
Part of the platform of the youth and media programme was addressing cyberbullying and harassment. A group of experts was considering the most adequate measures that could protect children, while at the same time raising awareness of the issue.
Studies showed that 95 per cent of Swiss mothers had breastfed their children, the delegation said. As for prescription drugs for children with attention deficit disorder, a group of experts had been set up to consider the issue, and they had also been asked to develop a pedagogic programme for children with school difficulties.
In response to questions on mental health, the delegation said that while there was no specific mental health strategy, there were many activities in place that the Federal Office of Public Health was working on, and the cantons were providing full support. A shortage of psychiatrists working with children and adolescents was a great challenge, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Office of Public Health was already allocating additional resources to mitigate that.
A Committee Expert commented that the delegation had not addressed the United Nations guidelines on the concept of justice adapted to children, which required a more pro-active approach by the Government. What had been done to ensure that international recommendations were upheld when it came to trafficking of children?
What was Switzerland doing to prevent children’s consumption of alcohol, tobacco and drugs? Switzerland had ratified an anti-tobacco law, but it seemed that the law went unnoticed, an Expert commented.
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation said that sustainable development education was part of the school curriculum, and was balanced between development, climate concerns, and human rights considerations. There were forums at the cantonal level where young people could discuss climate change concerns and submit requests for projects, and in some cantons, the authorities were obligated to respond to those concerns.
In response to questions on the participation of children in the asylum process, the determination of the age of asylum seekers who said they were minors was done based on forensic expert analysis based on bone age, dental age, and body constitution. The aim of an accelerated procedure was to rapidly resolve the asylum applications of minors and facilitate their integration. During the procedure, minors had access to independent legal representation. As for the disappearance of minors, in cases where minors did not return to residence centres, police would be notified. Family regrouping was possible three years after a child’s provisional entry, and it was done on an individual assessment basis. As for the detention of children below the age of 14, neither adults nor minors were put in administrative detention.
Criminal responsibility started at the age of 10, the delegation explained, but juvenile criminal law included different protection areas. Up to the age of 15, the law provided only protective measures or light penalties. Minors were not put in prison.
On children involved in armed conflict, the delegation stressed that in federal centres for asylum seekers, everyone had access to healthcare, including mental health assistance, all covered by health insurance. Those who had taken part in armed conflict were identified early on.
The delegation explained that the Swiss government had taken a decision not to repatriate adults who had travelled to Syria as jihadists. The r epatriation of minors was discussed on a case-by-case basis. Switzerland estimated that seven children with at least one parent with Swiss nationality were currently in the conflict zone. In cases of repatriation of minors, cantonal and federal authorities would take into account all relevant measures, including reintegration.
Concerning the Optional Protocol, the Delegation said that child pornography, prostitution or trafficking were covered by the Criminal Code, whether they were committed online or offline.
In response to questions about corporal punishment, there was no explicit prohibition in the Civil Code so far, the delegation said. The government was currently considering how to include it in the Civil Code protection against violence in education.
Switzerland had no specific plan of action against female genital mutilation, and the State Secretariat for Migration supported awareness-raising campaigns on that issue. Female genital mutilation did not take place in Switzerland; those were practices happening in countries of origin prior to arrival. Nonetheless, a debate on the matter had to be led with migrant communities.
HYND AYOUBI IDRISSI, Coordinator of the Task Force for Switzerland, thanked the Delegation for their open responses and patience as the Committee Experts were bombarding them with questions. She hoped the same level of attention would be extended to answers submitted in writing.
STEPHAN CUENI, Vice-Director, Head of the International Affairs Domain, Federal Social Insurance Office and head of the Swiss delegation , thanked the Committee Experts for their kind words and encouragement. Switzerland’s federal system was complex, and sometimes it was not easy to present the situation across the country. At the same time, regional competencies in the area of youth and children allowed for local, tailor-made solutions.