By: Dominique Nash and Olivia Roman
An 82 year old resident of Switzerland experienced severe neglect from his mother throughout his childhood. Roland Frey didn’t “know the difference between the man and the woman at the age of 23. I’ve never been told about that.”
Frey also didn’t know what love was growing up, as he did not receive any. He had to learn it.
“I really did start learning about love after finishing school and going back to the university at the age of 75.”
Before this, the neglect he experienced as a child resulted in a cognitive disorder of decision-making and the, “missing to assert myself. So it goes from losing jobs to distributing newspapers to working with Estee Lauder Cosmetics or Gucci,” said Frey.
Frey turned his life around and is now a freelance public speaker and a supporter of the non-profit specialist organization, Kinderschutz Schweiz (Child Protection Switzerland).
Other than neglect within childhood, children around the world struggle with various forms of abuse.
An on-going study indicates that almost 50% of children from ages 1-14 in Switzerland experience a type of physical or psychological abuse at home, excluding sexual abuse. The survey is being conducted by researchers from the University of Fribourg on behalf of Kinderschutz Schweiz.
Some experts and professionals within the child protection field challenge this survey, explain the range of complexities within the statistics of child abuse and advocate for stricter laws in Switzerland.
The survey’s beginnings and accuracy
As a social worker in Germany, Angela Pallec explains there is a law that forbids any type of harm to children.
“Maybe a different country will say ‘okay you can slap a little and it’s not going to be a problem’… it’s going to be the right of the parents to educate like that. If you think that, you are not going to have so many cases,” said Pallec.
If a country like Germany bans any type of physical or psychological violence, then the cases will accumulate and it may seem the child abuse rates are more prevalent in comparison to other countries around the EU, expressed Pallec. She thinks this may be happening in Switzerland.
1992 saw the first survey of the overall series, Punitive Behavior of Parents in Switzerland, commissioned by Switzerland’s federal government. Kinderschutz Schweiz took over the funding of the study in 2015, when the federal office chose not to continue it themselves.
The first survey commissioned by Kinderschutz Schweiz took place in 2015/2016 and the first set of results were published in 2017, with the findings being the basis of the organization’s campaign since 2018. From then on, there have been three different samples with repeated surveys. The most recent survey was conducted in October 2022 showcasing the alarming statistics of abuse.
Around 1,013 people who are part of a nationally representative panel, such as a public opinion research firm, received an anonymous survey that was sent to their homes. They were questioned on their assumptions and knowledge on the legal status of punishments, what they personally view as permissible punishments, how often they use physical violence in raising their children and their thoughts on legislation of a non-violent upbringing.
Ever since the 2022 survey was released, the 50% has been met with shock, doubt and an over publication of articles.
Philip Jaffé, a member of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child since 2019, supports the findings.
“[I don’t see] any reason to challenge the numbers that Kinderschutz Schweiz put out. The research was conducted by a good team of researchers… The researchers are well known and the methodology was good.”
Dr. Dominik Schoebi, a professor and researcher at the University of Fribourg and the PI of the Punitive Behavior of Parents in Switzerland from the institute for Family Research and Counseling, mentions that this percentage may actually be higher.
“We know that there is a certain risk that we underestimate the frequency of the violence used with these measures, because people tend to answer in socially acceptable ways and they have a little bit of a higher threshold to admit that they hit their children,” said Dr. Schoebi.
In the 2022 surveys result bulletin #2, Frequency of physical violence in upbringing, showcases around 15% of parents that “stated they had hit their child’s butt as a punishment. The least frequent occurrences were ‘beatings with objects’. With 99% of respondents, almost all parents who took part in the survey have never done so. ‘Shaking’ and ‘pushing’ were newly recorded: Around 11% of parents have already pushed their child in situations of punishment, and 5% of parents have already shaken their child.”
Physical violence was also deemed to be used more frequently on younger children than on older. The more common parental measures were noted as slapping on the buttocks, hair pulling or ignoring. “Older children or teenagers are often pushed by their parents,” which was also expressed in result bulletin #2.
Dr. Schoebi shared that his institute also uses sufficiently large groups of people from the Italian speaking part of Switzerland but attempts to represent all areas of Swiss life using particular methods.
“We use weighting measures to adjust and have a representative picture. So, we are collecting data in all parts of Switzerland and from all socio economic layers of the Swiss population,” said Schoebi.
Languages may dictate different upbringings
Within the playing field of Switzerland, there are three main languages spoken; German (Swiss), French and Italian. In these language regions there are subcultures emerging with different upbringing standards.
For example, it was found that parents from German-speaking Switzerland considered “more violent parenting behaviors than parents from other language regions to be legally prohibited. 95.6% of German-speaking parents stated that spanking is not permitted by law. In French-speaking Switzerland, this was slightly less with 93.1%, and in the Italian-speaking part with 76.5%, significantly less,” stated in the 2022 surveys result bulletin #1, Legal situation of violence in upbringing from the perspective of the parents.
When Dr. Schoebi was asked about parenting techniques between the language parts, he explains that in the survey they were also asked questions about parents’ expectations and what they wanted their children to be like as an adult.
“There are people in French speaking regions, for example, they say, ‘oh, I want my child to be a good citizen who follows the laws and things like this.’ And I’m exaggerating a bit. In the German area, people say rather, ‘oh I want my child to have a self-fulfilling life and to you know, be creative and try everything and have great experiences and things like this’,” said Dr. Schoebi.
Even though he says his words exaggerate the differences, there are some vast conclusions that jump out.
As illustrated below, Switzerland is split in regional divides with each linked to one of the Big 5 Personalities (Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Neuroticism and Openness).
In addition, lowest scores of agreeableness are detected in westernmost, southern cantons such as Vaudi and Geneva which are known for their French language. Researchers Friedrich Götz and Tobias Ebert from the University of Mannheim add that citizens within those two cantons are inclined to be ‘stubborn, demanding and quarrelsome.’
The terminology behind it all
Daniel Schecter, a child adolescent psychiatrist, adult psychiatrist and neuropsychologist who has worked in Lausanne University for the past 5 years, states that he does not believe the rates in Switzerland are substantially higher than in other countries.
“I think that Switzerland is on par with Western Europe… but again, when one uses the term abuse or child maltreatment, it covers a lot of different kinds of phenomena,” said Schecter.
Within terminology and research done on child maltreatment and child abuse, it involves a lot of disciplinary approaches. Andreas Jud, a researcher based in Switzerland, calls it a challenge to define the terms accurately. When asked again, Jud rephrased his words slightly and said that “child maltreatment is the term of violent acts perpetrated by a caregiver.”
“There are many different psychologists, pediatricians, sociologists and lawyers involved. So you have this different disciplinary approach or different definitions,” within cases of non-violent upbringings, said Jud.
“Saying once or very few times, ‘gosh, child why you have done such a thing as you’re such a stupid child to have done this.’ Saying this once or twice is not the same as regularly saying, ‘I wish you would never have been born. I would be better off if you would never have been born’ or to regularly hit your child… it’s definitely not the same and the numbers are quite different for the child,” stated Jud.
The challenges behind legislation
Kinderschutz Schweiz has recently been fighting the right for a non-violent upbringing to be enshrined in the law of Switzerland. There is also no outright ban on hitting children or other corporal punishments.
Matea Petrovic, a communication specialist at Kinderschutz Schweiz, explains that for a very long time in Switzerland, education was viewed as a private matter. Although she admits that it is, she believes that violence against children is not.
“On 19 October 2022, the Federal Council stated in its report on the postulate Bulliard 20.3185 that it considers anchoring the right to a non-violent education to be possible and helpful, but that it nevertheless believes that the legal situation in Switzerland is clear and that it only needs more awareness-raising. Experience in neighboring countries shows that in order for violence to disappear from the upbringing of children, both are needed: a clear legal basis and the accompanying awareness-raising,” said Petrovic.
She thinks it’s clear that there must be no more room for interpretation when it comes to violence against children.
“Non-violent education must be unequivocally included in the law,” said Petrovic.
Jaffé said that when it comes to Kinderschutz Schweiz, he has “actually had some tension with them over the past few years because they have this new point that we had to educate the Swiss population before casting the illegal.”
Jaffé wants a symbolic prohibition which rebukes inadequate settlements of guardians. In order for a legal ramification to be put in place, it needs to set a boundary and then look at prevention campaigns as a second step.
“If you don’t know what the law prohibits, then there’s no good reason to change your behavior,” mentioned Jaffé.
He acknowledges that only recently Kinderschutz Schweiz “have been advocating for an interdiction of prohibition of corporal punishment.”
Some wonder why it is taking so long to pass legislation or have an outright ban on corporal punishment, and there are a number of reasons why.
“The Swiss political system is based on consultations that go on for eternity. So it takes a lot of years to come to some form of consensus,” said Jaffé.
Switzerland’s legal matters have been mentioned to move slower compared to other countries, as they have 26 cantons and the federal government to take into account.
“It takes a lot of time to negotiate compromises between all the players,” said Schoebi, “I also think there’s a certain reluctance to interfere with private matters.”
Petrovic believes that they are in good spirits for next week.
“Switzerland will finally anchor nonviolent education in the law. But even after non-violent education is enshrined in law, we still need to raise awareness of this issue among the population. There, too, we will continue to make our contribution.”
The UN and neighboring nations continue to put pressure on Switzerland in legal regards.
Keeping educators involved
The education sector has a large role in identifying and intervening with child abuse cases. Matt Harris, the co-founder and CEO of ChildSafeguarding.com, provides educators with training to manage child abuse cases.
When Harris started to offer eLearning for adults within the school system in 2009, he noticed that there was only materials for teachers with profound, pedagogical backgrounds.
“There’s really nothing designed for support staff. So think cleaners and bus drivers and maintenance workers and, you know, food service workers. And I mean, you’ve had quite a bit of an experience in school that you realize that they know quite a bit. They see things that other people don’t.”
The motto ‘everyone has a role to play’ in protecting children in his current program spins into 34 different languages. As some support staff may have only completed secondary education, Childsafeguarding’s platform addresses the technical needs and language barriers for a broad school community across 67 countries and reaching out to all continents.
Harris mentions, “all of the adults in these children’s lives really have the power to create a very safe environment” and therefore exemplify the notion on how to protect children. Calculated and repeated abusers “will avoid environments where too many people are trained because it’s not safe for them.”
With eLearning, the program recognizes a three pronged approach: the potential for harm, the actual harm and the previous experience with harm.
Keeping children safe should have a global agreement and shared standardization of what is accepted behavior. This tactic gets the best result “when all the pairs of eyes and ears act like CCTVs within an environment around children,” conveys Harris.
The Department of Education from the canton Zürich already practices measures such as counseling services and awareness-raising for approximately 18,000 teachers at public schools.
Other damaging effects of abuse
There are many other damaging effects of child abuse that some may not think of. Some children have to face their abusers as guardians with whom they need to frequently stay in contact with.
Children may not always want to hold onto relations with their abuser, which many social workers and the court exemplifies. This continued relationship remains a pain point and still baffles Jaffé to this day.
“It’s as if you can abuse your child judiciously and you still have a right to have personal relations with him or her as if that’s never challenged,” said Jaffé.
In Jaffé’s eyes, there must be the right to challenge these pre-determined boundaries. An example to fix this issue is given by Daniel Schecter. He states more employees dealing with children should have a background in child developmental psychology and ethics within the jobs’ prerequisites.
The fight against child abuse is nowhere near over. It is essential that professionals, communities, governments and guardians put in their utmost effort in protecting a child’s peaceful upbringing.
“Knowledge is the link, I found out myself at the age of 75. I said to myself, ‘goodness gracious, I know a lot of things but what do I not know? I have to know more about how psychology works, how the human being works’,” revealed Frey.
lf you know cases of child abuse or seen a particular instance which needs a report, please contact the following organizations: https://www.kinderombudsstelle.ch/ Ombudsman for Children’s rights in Switzerland or call +41 44 366 44 77 for Zürich International Social Services.
Especially for children and young adults, they can sms the no.147 for solicited advice and have full confidentiality on their personal cases.
Child Protection Switzerland provides resources, a landline number and materials for parents to look into recognizing, understanding and the aftermath with cases of domestic violence. See the following link to make an appointment or help needed: https://www.kinderschutz.ch/angebote/beratungs-und-meldestellen
For other countries within the EU, the following document provides helplines and support. See the following document for child-abuse helplines.
The 114 Childhood Emergency service, is promoted by the Department of Family Policy in Italy – for cases of child abuse or severe situations in Italian households.