From the point of view of the authorities, compulsory social measures and placements nearly always based on a history that permitted intervention. The reasons were manifold and the persons affected often unprepared. Their living conditions did not always improve thereafter.

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The aim of the measures was to fight poverty and nonconformist lifestyles.

If a person or a family did not live according to the social norm or depended on support, the risk of compulsory measures increased. Placement of children and teenagers, administrative detention in “facilities”, homes, psychiatry and prisons, adoption under duress, involuntary sterilization or castration were part of the Swiss social policy. Medicines were tested on some of the affected individuals without asking for their consent. In many cases the preservation of the social order was more important than the wellbeing of individuals. ...

Backed by the Law

Many social measures were legitimated by federal and cantonal laws.

Voting advert with the slogan "Those who are healthy should work! - Yes to the Compulsory Care Act", drawn by Arbeitsame Bürger.

Volksblatt of the district of Bezirk Affoltern (1925)

In 1925, the electorate of Zurich – exclusively men – voted for the second time on a cantonal law on administrative detention. The act on “Detention of Juveniles, Derelicts and Habitual Drinkers” allowed administrative detention as measure for “moral education” and correctional labour. This allowed to institutionalize people from the age of 12 for up to 2 years, without them having committed a crime. The bill was controversial but adopted with a clear majority. The law was in force until 1981.

There Must be Hundreds of Thousands

Thanks to extensive statistics we know the number of real estate properties, the development of the temperatures or the exact number of goats in Switzerland. However, we will never know the exact number of those who were affected by coercive measures.

Table showing the development of the number of goats in the canton of Grisons since 1866. The figures are accurate to the nearest digit, for example in 1866: 375,482 goats or in 1966 74,707 and in 2003 67,412 goats.

Number of goats in the canton of Grisons since1866, Farmer’s Newspaper (2006)

Reliable figures on how many persons in Switzerland were affected by compulsory social measures have never been centrally collected – a reconstruction is not possible. Estimates put the number of those directly affected in 19th and 20th century at several 100,000. Several tens of thousands are still alive today.

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