Political inquiry

In Switzerland, children, adolescents and adults were victims of compulsory social measures and placements right up until late in the 20th century. They were placed in homes or foster families, forced into agricultural labour, or detained in institutions because they were poor or did not conform to social norms, for example. In the process, they and their relatives were deprived of their basic rights and were often not only exposed to arbitrary treatment by the authorities, but also violence and exploitation. There were always critical voices about the practice of these measures and the often serious consequences for those affected. The general public and politicians were also aware of this – particularly in connection with individual scandals and media reports. However, the call for a thorough investigation, and for the abolition of abuse and injustice at national political level, was not heard and did not find a majority for a long time.

It was not until the major economic and socio-political shift following the Second World War (in particular the economic boom of the 1950s, the development of the social security system at federal level, and the democratisation of society in the wake of the 1968 protests) that changes and adjustments in practice – including at legislative level – were progressively introduced. This in turn contributed to a gradual decline in the number of people affected and measures taken.

These changes were accompanied in the second half of the 20th century by an era in which the state – and not only in Switzerland – began a reappraisal of historical injustice. In Switzerland, the 1980s saw the first widespread discussion of the dark chapter of compulsory social measures and placements with the reappraisal of the fate of Yenish children (known as "The vagabond children" campaign), who had been forcibly removed from their families. The reappraisal of Switzerland's role in the Second World War by the Bergier Commission starting in the mid-1990s, and the rehabilitation of refugee helpers at the time of National Socialism, as well as the Swiss Spanish civil war fighters in the first decade of the 2000s, are further examples of official Switzerland dealing with problematic chapters of its past.

However, a full national political investigation into compulsory social measures and placements did not begin until the 1990s. The persistent commitment of individuals and victims’ associations, as well as topical discourse in the media and by cultural professionals, initiated a process that allowed for public opinion-making. Research also began to increasingly address the background and effects of compulsory social measures and placements. In contrast to earlier attempts, the topic finally found its way onto the national political agenda at the end of the 1990s; this marked the beginning of a process of reappraisal, which lasted several years. Key milestones in this process were the apologies by the Federal Council and the cantons at two national commemorative events in 2010 and 2013 respectively, as well as the ongoing cantonal commemorative ceremonies that began in 2011. In 2013, a round table was also set up, which then prepared the groundwork for the creation of a Federal Act on Compulsory Social Measures and Placements prior to 1981 (CSMPA) in 2016. On the basis of this legislative act, the cantons began creating symbols of remembrance in 2017 to commemorate the victims.


For the complete documentation see the pages in German, French or Italian.

Legal basis


Last modification 26.09.2022

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