Friday, January 20, 2012

Swiss 'contract children' speak out

 A dark chapter of Swiss history is getting increased attention, with the release of a feature film about “Verdingkinder” or “contract children” and an exhibition about them which is touring the country.

A common feature of Swiss life until the mid-1950s, Verdingkinder were primarily children from poor families in the cities, forcibly removed from their parents by the authorities and sent to work on farms.

There, many of them were regularly beaten and even sexually abused. They had little education and consequently, as adults, little chance of making careers for themselves.

Many also found that the abuse experienced in their childhood made it difficult to establish relationships as adults - former Verdingkinder have high rates of divorce and many now live alone.

Peter Weber was a Verdingkind. Now 55, he lives in a small flat in Basel, and he has never forgotten the day, over 50 years ago, when his childhood ended.

“One morning, when I was four,” Peter remembers, “my mother took me on a train way out into the country, to a farm.”

“Then she said, you have to stay here now. I think that was the moment I lost my faith in people, I had to work from the start, they hit me almost every day, it was bad.” More