Switzerland ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child three years ago, but some cantons have been accused of dragging their feet over its implementation, chiefly for financial reasons.
Switzerland did not ratify the convention until 1997, mainly because it wanted to bring its legislation in line with the convention before ratification. Earlier this month, a report on how the convention should be applied in Switzerland was approved by the cabinet.
"This report is a kind of inventory of where Switzerland stands today with regard to the protection of children. It is the basis for the implementation of the convention," says Jean-Marie Bouverat, of the Centre for Family Issues in the Swiss interior ministry.
"We now know what measures need to be taken in the future, in every domain: education, health, culture and so on," he told swissinfo.
But at a federal level, the authorities can only coordinate and inform. Implementation must be carried out at a cantonal or communal level, and until now that has been patchy. This is partly a question of policy priorities, partly because some cantons have more money than others.
"We can only encourage the cantons to take measures. The federal role is unfortunately not very hands-on," Bouverat says.
"There are some cantons which are pioneers when it comes to protecting children. There are others which do the bare minimum," he adds.
Canton Vaud was the first canton to appoint a delegate for the prevention of child abuse, Zurich has established an inter-departmental child welfare commission, while Geneva has been at the forefront of attempts to ensure that the children of illegal immigrants receive an education.
"We don't consider if they or their parents have a permit or not. Every child has the right to an education," says Geneva's cantonal education chief, Martine Brunschwig-Graf.
For the authorities, one of the key remaining challenges in Switzerland is allowing children to have a greater say. Jean-Marie Bouverat says: "We have children's parliaments in Switzerland, but children have almost no influence over the decisions that affect them."
There is also a great deal of work left to do in making adults and children aware of children's rights.
It is also true that other policies indirectly affect the welfare of children. The poor integration of foreigners, the lack of maternity insurance and a lack of adequate childcare facilities can all have an impact on a child's well being.
In general, children in Switzerland do not suffer as greatly as those in the developing world, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, like all human rights treaties, forms an important part of Swiss foreign policy.
"We rely on international instruments as the basis of our understanding of human rights protection," says Silvia Danailov, of the foreign ministry's human rights policy section. "As regards Swiss Development Cooperation, the convention is at the very centre of our thinking."
Danailov says that one of Switzerland's foreign policy priorities is the protection of children in armed conflicts. The country has been a strong supporter of an optional protocol to the convention on the use of child soldiers.
The treatment of children can also be a barometer for the general human rights situation: "If children's rights are respected, there is a better chance that human rights in general will be respected," Danailov told swissinfo.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child is still a relatively new document. It is revolutionary in that it not only gives protection to children, but it also requires the state to take into account children's views and include them in the decision making process.
"Children are too often regarded as small people who need protection, rather than being seeing them as real members of society," Danailov says.
"Children need to be protected as they develop, but they must also be given the opportunity to participate in society. A lot still needs to be done with regard to children's rights awareness," she says.
by Roy Probert
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