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Droits des enfants au XXe siècle

David Niget
Yves Denéchère

Première partie. Le droit à l'histoire

Self-Motivated Humanitarianism? The Study of the Evacuation of Belgian and French Children to Switzerland (1941-1945)

Chelsea Sambells


Although children in war are considered dependent and vulnerable, they simultaneously possess political and national significance, raising them above other casualties of war. Evacuations were a popular method to protect children, and thereby, defend the future vitality of the state. From 1941-1945, the British, German and Swiss governments collaborated to evacuate some 60,000 Belgian and French children to neutral Switzerland for three-month periods of recuperation. Although the suffering of Belgian and French children was given as the reason behind these governments’ fierce intervention, the true motivations were politically and nationally-dependent, as each stakeholder mobilized for their own self-preservation and to further their own agendas. Paradoxically, then, the effort to protect these children and to further their rights was completed without significant regard to the children themselves. And, despite the fact that these children were relegated to an ancillary role to the interests of the nation, they were, at the same time, the ones who benefitted the most from this humanitarian intervention.

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By mid-1940, as Western Europe fell to the invading German forces, and children began to acutely suffer under occupation, pressure mounted on governments and organizations to implement large-scale relief operations and transnational evacuations. Children, the most dependent and vulnerable population group exposed to war, possessed national and political significance because they represented the vitality of the future state. The country that saves its children simultaneously ensures the success and longevity of the nation. Not only did the devastation of the Second World War bring significant attention to the rights of the child, but also to the governments meant to protect them. However, these nations were not solely motivated to selfless humanitarian acts by the simple desire to “save the children” but often by less innocent incentives, which promoted their own national interests and advanced their own agendas.

From 1941 to 1945, the British, German and Swiss governments implemented...


Chelsea Sambells a débuté sa carrière académique en sciences de la communication, étudiant le rôle de la rhétorique politique et de la propagande pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale. Elle est titulaire d’une licence et d’un master de l’université de Calgary. Depuis, elle s’est engagée dans les études historiques, avec un master consacré à l’histoire de la Seconde Guerre mondiale à l’université d’Édimbourg, qu’elle poursuit avec un doctorat consacré à cet épisode largement méconnu de l’évacuation des enfants belges et français vers la Suisse (1941-1945). Elle porte son attention sur deux questions en particulier : les motivations des gouvernements en guerre et leur mode de communication ; les enjeux et effets de la guerre sur les opérations humanitaires à l’égard des enfants.

© Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2015

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