Violence in childhood – also a Swiss problem

Over 50% children experience corporal punishment in Switzerland, experts say bonnontawat/123RF

Nearly three out of four children worldwide experience some form of violence, a major international report has concluded. No country is spared, even Switzerland, where experts say corporal punishment at home is still widespread.

This content was published on December 2, 2017 - 11:00
Isobel Leybold-Johnson in Zurich

The recently published, highly comprehensive studyExternal link, by India-based advocacy group Know Violence in ChildhoodExternal link, found that an estimated 1.7 billion boys and girls suffer mental or physical abuse each year.

Corporal punishment at home was the most common form of violence, affecting 1.3 billion children up to the age of 14, said the report, the findings of which were presented to Swiss experts at a Unicef SwitzerlandExternal link event in mid-November. Violence was prevalent on every continent.

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The annual costs of physical, sexual and psychological violence against children was estimated at $7 trillion (CHF6.9 trillion).

“It’s very important for the rich countries of the world like Switzerland to recognise that one of the biggest threats to human progress or advancement is the neglect of violence in childhood,” Know Violence Global Co-Chair Shiva Kumar told at the Zurich event.

These countries have invested heavily in welfare states, health, education and social protection, but their returns on investment would be magnified if they put more resources into preventing violence, he added. “These early childhood experiences starting with prenatal experiences of even domestic violence, witnessing violence, peer violence, interpersonal violence, really affect the behaviour, productivity and the ability of citizens to contribute to society,” Kumar said.

Over 50% children affected

For Switzerland, it was estimated that 54.4% of children aged 1-14 suffered forms of corporal punishment at home. This was comparable with its neighbours like Germany (57.9%) but way below the top ten countries, which showed above 90% rates.

The rate tallies with the estimates of the non-governmental Swiss Foundation of Child ProtectionExternal link, which puts the corporal punishment at home rate at around 50-55% in Switzerland.

A separate study published by the Zurich University of Applied Sciences in October found that one in five children suffered severe corporal punishment at the hands of their parents. Among the most affected: children from poorer and migrant backgrounds.

The right of parents to use corporal punishment in disciplining their children was removed from Swiss law in 1978, but there is no outright ban, as in Germany.

“Children have a right to an upbringing free of violence,” said Xenia SchlegelExternal link, director of the Swiss Foundation of Child ProtectionExternal link. She was also at the Unicef event in Zurich.

“This is one of the big issues which causes problems in Switzerland, that so-called extreme violence is punished, if it goes seen, but there is no possibility for the state to offer programmes for parents, caregivers, teachers and the public on the right to a violence-free upbringing. For this, the concept needs to be anchored in civil law.”

Banning means that the violence must first be reported, which is not always the case, added Schlegel. Society also needs to change, she said.

A small slap

“Many people in Switzerland don’t think that a small slap on the bum is violence. They think under certain circumstances, if the child goes over the top, it might be OK, because they experienced that when they were young. So we need to change the social norm in Switzerland, that any form of violence is not acceptable, no matter how big or small.”

An outright ban may also lead to parents feeling criminalised, which is not the aim, she added. A change of attitude is key.

The foundation is preparing to launch a campaign on the issue in spring 2018, which will also see the publication of an extensive study into the readiness of parents to use corporal punishment for discipline in Switzerland.


On November 20 – Universal Children’s DayExternal link – the group “no to violence against childrenExternal link”, made up of members of the public, added its voice to calls for the right to a non-violent upbringing in Switzerland. It wants a ban on corporal punishment and psychological violence against children to be enshrined in civil law.

The group has launched a petition to put pressure on the government and parliament, which it says have “refused until now to declare violence against children as inadmissible and to thus enshrine this into law”.

Indeed, parliament has over the years voted down several motions on the issue. Child rights are however on the winter agenda. The House of Representatives on November 28 approved a revised proposalExternal link to standardise reporting obligations in potential abuse cases, albeit in a slightly watered down versionExternal link.

The researchers behind the Know Violence in Childhood report also remarked that change had to come from society.

“We know violence is an adaptive behaviour, it can also therefore be unlearned and we need to invest in helping people to find alternative ways to manage conflict and aggression,” the organisation’s Executive Director Ramya Subrahmanian told

“The law sets a very important signal for what a society values but you need to take people along with you, to help them develop those capabilities so that the law is realised and fulfilled.”

A key finding of the report was ‘breaking the silence’. If countries like Switzerland stand up and speak about violence in their own countries and their efforts to change, this could in turn be inspirational for other countries, she added.

The report

Ending Violence in Childhood, a report by the international learning collaborative Know Violence in Childhood, was published on September 26, 2017.

Almost three years in the making, it analysed existing data, commissioned new research and synthesised knowledge on the causes and consequences of violence against children worldwide.

“‘Ending Violence in Childhood’ is crucial in that it provides better disaggregated data on violence against children. Knowing violence and the set of problems linked to it and also knowing which children are particularly vulnerable is a prerequisite for taking the right and well-directed measures to prevent violence in childhood,” said Unicef Switzerland spokeswoman Charlotte Schweizer.

The report did not include, for example, violence related to human trafficking or conflict.

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