Last Updated: Thursday, 18 January 2018, 16:17 GMT

Child Soldiers Global Report 2001 - Switzerland

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 2001
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2001 - Switzerland, 2001, available at: [accessed 19 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Mainly covers the period June 1998 to April 2001 as well as including some earlier information.

  • Population:
    – total: 7,344,000
    – under-18s: 1,539,000
  • Government armed forces:
    – active: 3,470
    – reserves: 351,200
    – paramilitary: 280,000
  • Compulsory recruitment age: 19-20
  • Voluntary recruitment age: 17-18
  • Voting age (government elections): 18
  • Child soldiers: indicated in government forces
  • CRC-OP-CAC: signed on 7 September 2000; supports "straight-18" position
  • Other treaties ratified: CRC; GC/API+II; ILO
  • There are indications of under-18s in government armed forces as voluntary recruitment is possible from 17. The Swiss Government has strongly supported the "straight-18" position in international fora. There have been reports of child recruitment in Switzerland by armed opposition groups from other countries, namely, the KLA for the conflict in Kosovo.


National Recruitment Legislation and Practice

The Swiss Army has almost no full-time active combat units but is capable of full mobilisation within 72 hours. There is virtually no standing army apart from training cadres and a few essential headquarters staff.1835 A proposal to abolish the army will be put to referendum in 2002 or 2003; the Swiss previously rejected abolition in a 1989 vote.1836

A new Constitution was formally adopted by referendum on 14 April 1999 and has been in force since 1 January 2000. Article 59 (Military and Alternative Service) states that: "(1) Every Swiss man must render military service. The statute shall provide for an alternative service; (2) For Swiss women, military service is voluntary."

The Swiss Army is based on universal conscription. Conscription is regulated by the 1995 Federal Law on the Armed Forces and Military Administration (LAAM)1837 and by the 1995 Ordinance on Recruitment of Conscripts (OREC).1838 According to Article 2(1) of the LAAM every Swiss is liable for military service. All men have to register from the beginning of the year during which they turn 19.1839 Obligatory recruitment occurs during a man's 19th year.1840 Each person who has been recruited is obliged to perform military service,1841 an obligation which starts at the beginning of the year during which the conscript reaches 20 years of age.1842 Only male citizens are ordered to report for conscription. They may perform military service (and afterwards civil defence service), alternative national service or pay military tax.1843 Women can elect to perform military service on voluntary basis between the age of 18 and 28.1844 In principle, all functions are open to them with only combat duties excluded. Both men and women are medically examined during conscription; only those assessed as "fit for service" are conscripted and assigned to a unit. Members of the armed forces who are equipped with automatic rifles fulfil their target practice obligations off-duty.

According to the 2000 Report on Swiss Security Policy, universal conscription is to be maintained, though its flexibility may be increased and the length of compulsory service reduced. The proposed reforms to the armed forces will lead to reductions in personnel.1845

According to Article 12 (1) of LAAM, once recruited, a person becomes a member of the armed forces even if he does not take up military training in an 'école de recrues' until later. Men can volunteer for recruitment during the year in which they turn 17 or 18.1846 The Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, confirmed that recruits must be at least 17 years old.1847

Between 1997 and 1999, 360 to 400 recruits took the opportunity to attend basic military training at the age of 17 or 18 for personal reasons (1.5% of all recruits).1848

Switzerland sent military personnel to Kosovo in 1999, none of whom were under 18.1849

Military Training and Military Schools

Military service takes place in the "ecole de recrues". It is composed of a basic training which lasts for 15 weeks and reservist training (ten times every two years) until the age of 42, 52 or 62 depending on rank.1850 However, depending on the type of assignment or function, the training of female recruits may be shorter and last only 8 weeks.1851

Basic training in recruits' school begins under the command of the platoon leader. Later, groups are formed with an emphasis on specialist training, weapon handling and endurance exercises. Combat training is carried out in the unit. Recruits' school is followed by refresher courses, in the majority of the cases 10 of them at two-year intervals. The number of days to be served depends on the rank: a private serves 300 days, a General Staff colonel 1300.1852 The Army Training Centre is located in Lucerne. Some 200,000 attended training in 1999.1853


  • Kosovo Liberation Army

It was reported that the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) recruited in Switzerland during April 1999. A Swiss NGO, Comité pour la Paix en Yougoslavie, lodged a complaint to the Swiss Attorney General about recruitment in Switzerland by the KLA, but the authorities replied that there had been no violation of Swiss law.1854 The Swiss authorities have indicated they are examining the means by which such recruitment can effectively be criminalised, but emphasise that there are no armed opposition groups active in Switzerland.1855 (See the section on the KLA in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia country entry)


International Standards

Switzerland signed the CRC-OP-CAC on 7 September 2000 and supports a "straight-18" position. At the Winnipeg International Conference on War-Affected Children in September 2000 the Federal Counsellor said "Switzerland is committed to promoting respect for the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict.... Switzerland is convinced that to ensure the best possible protection of children, it is essential that the age of 18 be recognised as the minimum age for recruitment into the armed forces – both voluntary and obligatory – and for active service"1856 Switzerland was one of the very few European countries to support a clear prohibition on the use of children as soldiers in the ILO Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour.

1835 US State Department, Country Report on Human Rights Practices, 2000.

1836 Information provided to CSC by Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs, April 2001.

1837 LAAM – Loi fédérale sur l'armée et l'administration militaire of 3/5/95 – RS 510-10.

1838 OREC – Ordonnance concernant le recrutement des conscrits of 17/8/94.

1839 Article 7(2) LAAM.

1840 Article 8(3) LAAM.

1841 Article 12 LAAM.

1842 Article 13(1) LAAM.

1843 www.vbs.admin/ch/internet/FDA/e/Index.htm, Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sports.

1844 Article 5(1)(d) OREC.

1845, Report of the Security Police of Switzerland.

1846 Article 5(1)(c), OREC.

1847 Statement of the Swiss delegation to the European Conference on the Use of Children as Soldiers, Berlin, 18/10/99. Therefore the words "au cours de leur 17ème année" must be interpreted as "when they reached 17 years of age".

1848 Information provided by Daniel Derzic to CSC on 27/4/01.

1849 Evard, J., "Cent soixante volontaires s'entraînent pour le Kosovo", La Tribune de Genève, 27/8/99.

1850 Article 13 LAAM.

1851 Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sports, op. cit.

1852, Swiss Armed Forces Training.

1853 IISS, Military Balance, op. cit.

1854 Letter from the Ministère public de la Confédération, Bern, to the Comité pour la paix en Yougoslavie, 10/5/99.

1855 Reply from the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Bern, to CSC, 2/8/99; Communication of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Bern, to QUNO, 14/10/99.

1856 Speech by Federal Councillor Joseph Deiss to the International Conference on War-Affected Children, Winnipeg, Canada, 16/9/00.

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