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Verdingkinder, or "contract children", or "indentured child laborers"[1] were children in Switzerland who were taken from their parents, often due to poverty or moral reasons (e.g. the mother being unmarried, very poor, of gipsy origin, etc.), and sent to live with new families, often poor farmers who needed cheap labour. Many of these children, now adults, have now come forward to say that they were severely mistreated by their new families, suffering neglect, beatings and other physical and psychological abuse. The Verdingkinder scheme was common in Switzerland until the 1960s.[1][2] Investigations by historian Marco Leuenberger brought to light that in 1930 there were some 35.000 indentured children; though he suspects the real figure was twice that much, and between 1920 and 1970 more than 100.000 are believed to have been placed with families or homes. There were auctions where children were handed over to the farmer asking least money from the authorities, thus securing cheap labour for his farm and relieving the authority from the financial burden of looking after the children. Cf. an article in the Badische Zeitung:[3] This also states that in the 1930s 20% of all agricultural labour in the Canton of Bern were children below the age of 15.

Government reaction[edit]

An official apology was made on April 11, 2013, by the Swiss government, although compensation is unlikely to be paid.[1]

In culture[edit]

In 2008, Roland Begert,[4] an indentured child himself, published his autobiographical novel "Lange Jahre fremd",[5] causing a stir in Switzerland, where authorities and the general public had previously shut their eyes. Begert's story is interesting in particular, because it shows how such disadvantaged youngsters were forcefully apprenticed and put to work in industry after the war, when there was a shortage of labour. In 2012 an exhibition called "Verdingkinder Reden" ("Contract Children Speak") toured Switzerland, drawing attention to the fate of these children. In the same year, Der Verdingbub ("The Foster Boy"),[6] a feature film, was released, reaching number one at the Swiss box office.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d Swiss 'contract children' speak out, BBC, retrieved 19/1/2012
  2. ^ Marco Leuenberger & Loretta Seglias (eds.): "Versorgt und vergessen. Ehemalige Verdingkinder erzählen (in German), Rotpunktverlag, Zurich; and Lotty Wohlwend & Arthur Honegger: "Gestohlene Seelen: Verdingkinder in der Schweiz (in German), Huber, Bern.
  3. ^ Ausland: Verdingkinder in der Schweiz: Um die Kindheit betrogen -
  4. ^ de:Roland M. Begert
  5. ^ edition liebefeld - Home
  6. ^