After the referendum on immigration, the results of which are still raising questions and doubts, Switzerland is getting ready for an important new vote on 18 May – to ban convicted paedophiles from working with children for life.
The so-called Marche Blanche (White March) initiative would prohibit paedo-criminals and those guilty of sexually abusing a dependent person from ever working with children or disabled people, both professionally and as a volunteer. After a 10-year campaign, in April 2011 Marche Blanche finally managed to gather enough signatures to force a nationwide vote. The name refers to a demonstration in Brussels in 1996 following the arrest of child serial killer Marc Dutroux.
Last month the Federal Council defined the initiative as “superfluous” and invited Swiss citizens to reject the proposal in favour of a law revised by Parliament last November, which will be in force by January 2015. As the Minister of Justice Simonetta Sommaruga pointed out, the new law would “respect international law and the principle of proportionality”. The law includes a ten-year ban on working with children, which can be renewed by five years or extended to a life ban under certain circumstances. Judges will also have the power to forbid abusers from contacting victims and to declare certain public places off-limits to convicted paedophiles. The law goes further than the initiative, applying to all forms of physical and psychological violence, and is more nuanced. For example, under the initiative an 18-year-old who had a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl would be treated in the same way as someone preying on young children.
The first polls see 80% in favour of the text proposed by Marche Blanche, but parties are divided on the question. The Movement of Romand Citizens (MCR/MCG), the Bourgeois Democrats (PBD) and the Swiss People’s Party (UDC) are for a yes vote, but members of other parties such as the Liberals and the Swiss Socialist Party oppose the initiative. Andrea Caroni of the Liberals has put together a cross-party committee against the initiative, and Carlo Sommaruga of the Socialist Party also opposes the unconstitutional nature of the initiative.