Giving kids a say in their affairs

SWITZERLAND • Swiss children the Kinderanwaltschaft Schweiz (Swiss Child Advocacy Organisation), an independent association in Winterthur, on the phone regularly, asking for help.

When they do, their identities are kept anonymous.

“We cannot defend children‘s rights without protecting their identities,” said Ms Irene Inderbitzin, 50, the organisation‘s managing director.

Unlike state institutions such as the Swiss Child Protection Agency, Child Advocacy goes into action only when the little boy or girl asks for help.

“When I started hearing children‘s voices describing their stories and their situations on the phone, I was deeply moved,” said Ms Inderbitzin. It drove her to push for a justice system more mindful of children‘s rights.

Children‘s rights lawyers and psychologists specialising in child development founded the organisation in 2006, in response to the lack of full implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in their country. Switzerland ratified the convention in 1997 but 10 years later, certain central aspects of it – such as the right to be informed, to be heard and to participate – were still overlooked.

Asking for a child‘s opinion does not necessarily mean that the decisions taken are the ones he or she asked for, said Ms Inderbitzin. But allowing children to participate strengthens their resilience – for they realise that their actions and responsibilities have some effect.

Child Advocacy is pushing for the right of every child involved in a legal process to be kept informed, to be heard and to participate. They are also to have a legal representative when necessary, for cases such as divorce, child protection, asylum requests, school issues and medical procedures.

But while Child Advocacy takes calls and letters from children, it does not interact directly with them. Instead, it acts as an intermediary, making with the relevant authorities, organising discussions and ensuring that children are kept in the loop.

Some 100,000 children come into with the Swiss justice system every year. Last year, Child Advocacy intervened on behalf of 356 children.