GENEVA: Switzerland yesterday overwhelmingly voted for a harsher stance against convicted paedophiles by banning them from working with children for life.
All of the country’s 26 cantons, and a total 63.5 percent of voters supported the move in a controversial referendum. “I am relieved. I was very worried that this wouldn’t pass,” Christine Bussat, head of the White March association behind the initiative told public broadcaster RTS.
The vote requires Swiss lawmakers to draft one of Europe’s harshest laws against those convicted of sexually abusing children or dependant adults.
The government is among those opposed to the automatic, lifelong ban of working or volunteering with kids or vulnerable adults.
It has voiced concern that this leaves no room for legal interpretation on the gravity or nature of the crime.
Bern and other opponents have warned that the ban could potentially be slapped on a 20-year-old who has sexual relations with someone just under the 16-year legal age of consent, or even on underage children who exchange pornographic material.
“That is wrong. The initiative is targeted at paedophiles,” and not at youths, the White March association insists in its campaign material, stressing that the law to be drawn up will make this clear.
The government has maintained that the new law is not needed as it will overlap with existing legislation. But supporters of the initiative are adamant that current laws are too lax, allowing for child interaction bans of only up to 10 years against paedophiles sentenced to at least six months behind bars.
Following yesterday’s vote, the Swiss parliament will be tasked with drawing up one of Europe’s strictest laws against convicted paedophiles. In Italy, some convicted paedophiles are automatically banned for life from working with children, but other European nations leave the decision on whether to institute such a ban up to a judge.
Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga voiced disappointment Sunday that the initiative had passed.
Translating the text into law will prove a “dilemma”, she told reporters, insisting it would not be possible “without violating the constitution” which states the punishment must fit the crime.
Judith Wyttenbach, a constitutional law professor in Bern, told ATS that automatically banning a trained school teacher from practicing his profession for life might be viewed as a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. AFP