Web Content Display

“The elimination of all forms of violence against children”

 Speech by the Deputy Secretary General, Maud de Boer-Buquicchio 
at the Council of the Federation of the Federal Assembly - Moscow

 
 
29 March 2012 
 
Madame the Chairperson of the Council of the Federation,
Members of the Council,
Ministers,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
 
Harry Potter has certainly become a hero to millions of children. Possibly because, despite his vulnerability, this orphan boy has the courage to use his powers to defeat Evil.
Brilliant writers have touched our hearts and influenced our dreams as children. Within their fairy tales, children may become heroes and overcome all difficulties, provided they defend the right values.

 
In the real world, children are weak regardless of how they behave. Their rights depend on the willingness and ability of adults to protect them and respect them.
Evil of any kind or form is unacceptable in a child’s world, and we adults should strive to defeat it at every turn. In the real world, we may not have a magic wand either, but we do have powers. Unfortunately, we are far from using them always in the interests of children and the society as a whole.
 
Children are victims of the most terrible violations of their human rights. A child’s suffering is an adult’s magnified. Children cannot defend themselves from violent acts, they do not know where to seek help and they are not equipped to heal the wounds that often remain open for the rest of their lives.
 
The Evils we need to fight have different natures and changing forms. They behave as ghosts do, ignoring borders and obstacles. They have immense powers, mainly from money and influential networks. They analyse our weak points and undermine our defences. Some silent monsters know where to hide and how to hurt without being noticed. There are merciless pirates who would do anything for money. There are also phantoms that haunt the disordered minds of sick people. There are cruel stepmothers who never knew kindness and find no alternative to violence.
 
All those creatures walk on our streets, surf on the net, visit our homes, our schools and other places where children are supposed to be safe.
These Evils have learnt an easy lesson: the more vulnerable the victim, the easiest the hunt.
 
We must think of all the children in the world who are victims of violence, ranging from armed conflicts, terror attacks and trafficking, to sexual abuse in an orphanage, neglect at home or bullying at school.
 
Each single day, media headlines remind us of children’s vulnerability to adults cruelty. It is shocking, threatening and frustrating. In my opinion, each single case should be a wake-up call urging us to take effective measures to put an end to all forms of violence against children, to prevent fairy tales from turning into horror stories, dreams from turning into nightmares.
 
I am very pleased to have this opportunity to address you, in this prestigious chamber of the Council of the Federation of the Federal Assembly, today, when you start your debates on the future national plan on children and launch the Council of Europe ONE in FIVE Campaign to stop sexual violence against children.
 
For the Council of Europe, the only effective way to eliminate violence against children is through the elaboration of a strategy firmly rooted in respect for children’s rights
 
Unfortunately, many of the about 150 million children living in the Council of Europe 47 member states are routinely exposed to physical, sexual and psychological violence. Cruelty, aggression and hostility overtake them on the street or in public places such as work, school, or prisons. Yet, regrettably one of the most harmful places seems to be one which is actually meant to be a safe haven: the home.
 
All forms of violence, even the mildest ones, leave a print on a person’s mind and soul. The consequences violence has on individuals also translate into a substantial financial burden for society and the international community at large.
 
This is why, since many years, the Council of Europe is working to effectively address the phenomenon of violence against children in all its complexity and in a sustainable way.
 
All our efforts to protect children from violence are based on the values and principles outlined in the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child as well as on the rights guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Social Charter, which the Russian Federation has ratified. All call for protection of children from all forms of violence.
 
 
How to do this in practice? Our approach is two-fold:
 
(1)    On the one hand, we want to create the conditions to eliminate all existing and emerging forms of violence through the adoption of national strategies.
 
(2)    On the other hand, we have designed tools to address some very widespread forms of violence, like corporal punishment and sexual violence.
 
We strongly believe that the only way of securing a sustainable and efficient childhood policy is through the adoption of strong national strategies likely to survive and respond to any social, economic and political challenge. To support governments in this process, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe adopted a set of Guidelines on integrated national strategies on the protection of children from violence. I encourage you to use these guidelines as an inspiration for the work that you undertake today. I am confident that, thanks to the leadership of Ms Matvienko, Orlova and Dragunkina, your work will result in the adoption of a solid national plan with the aims of promoting children’s rights and eliminating all forms of violence against children.
 
The Council of Europe guidelines propose a vision of the objectives of any national strategy and suggest a model based on a number of key components. These include:
 
o                  the legislative framework prioritising prevention of violence and prohibiting all forms of violence against children;
 
o                  the institutional framework, encompassing amongst others, the body with the primary responsibility of protecting children from violence, as well as an independent human rights institution observing compliance with the rights of the child in the country;
 
o                  the culture of zero tolerance to violence against children within society and specifically amongst professionals working in contact with children;
 
o                  the promotion of child-friendly services and mechanisms to enable children to report acts of violence, and providing targeted and prompt assistance and support to child victims, witnesses, perpetrators of violence, and their families;
 
and finally:
 
o                  the measures to strengthen international co-operation to prevent and combat violence against children, protect and assist child victims and witnesses and investigate or prosecute criminal offences involving violence against children.
 
To date, many Council of Europe member states have adopted action plans or strategies aimed at eradicating violence against children. The Council of Europe stands ready, together with its international partners, such as UNICEF and the UN Special Representative of the Secretary General on Violence against Children, to support the Russian Federation in the process of elaborating its plan.
 
Ladies and Gentlemen,
 
A strategy is a framework that needs to be filled with action. Some forms of violence call for specific measures and, at the Council of Europe, we have decided to start by addressing the most widespread forms of violence, like corporal punishment and sexual violence.
 
In order to eliminate violent discipline of children, the Council of Europe launched in 2008 a campaign “Raise your hand against smacking!” with the aims of achieving prohibition of corporal punishment in our member States and of promoting positive parenting policies.
 
Corporal punishment is a violation of children’s rights to respect for physical integrity and human dignity. It is a harmful, inefficient and counterproductive way of disciplining children: it teaches children that violence is an acceptable and appropriate strategy for resolving conflict or getting people to do what they want.
If we accept the use of violence with children (even in a mild form), it will be more difficult to protect them from more extreme forms of violence. Last, but not least, research shows that there are more efficient ways of upbringing children, what we call “positive parenting”.

 
Positive parenting policies aim at supporting parents by reducing their level of stress, conciliating family and professional lives and advising on child upbringing techniques which take into account the child’s needs, rights and level of maturity. But let me be clear and reassure many of you: eliminating violence from an adult-child relationship does not mean sacrificing discipline. Parents, carers, teachers and other adults need resources to exert authority, to set borders and to accompany children in their development. But these resources cannot be smacks, punches, blows, insults and humiliations. A culture of zero tolerance for violence cannot flourish in ambiguity. This is why we insist in the need to have a clear prohibition of corporal and other forms of degrading or humiliating punishment of children.
 
32 countries in the world have prohibited all corporal punishment of children in law, including 22 Council of Europe member states. I hope that the Russian Federation will soon join this list.
 
The next topic that the Council of Europe has decided to address is sexual violence against children.
 
Scientific research suggests that around 20% of children in Europe are victims of some form of sexual violence. It is estimated that in 70 to 85% of cases, the offender is somebody the child knows, trusts, or loves. Data available on the Russian Federation, confirm the horrifying figures we have for other countries in Europe.[1]
 
Sexual violence against children can take many forms. It includes sexual abuse, child pornography, child prostitution, use of children in pornographic performances, exposure of children to sexual content, solicitation of children for sexual purposes and sexual assault by peers.
 
Children who are sexually abused often take refuge in silence because they feel shame, guilt and fear. The terrible consequences of sexual abuse can follow children into their adult lives – lives which victims often describe as being lived out in hidden sorrow and pain.
 
Sexual violence against children is a fact; it should not be a taboo. We have to move from denial to acceptance of the problem, from acceptance of the problem to understanding of reality. And what is more important: from understanding of reality to coordinated and efficient action to change it.
 
We are very pleased that the Russian Federation has decided to launch the Council of Europe ONE in FIVE Campaign to stop sexual violence against children. The aim of this campaign is twofold: First, to promote the signature and ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (the “Lanzarote Convention”). Second,  to raise awareness on the extent of sexual violence against children and the measures that need to be taken to protect children, prevent, identify and report sexual violence.
 
With the signature last week of a Campaign Partner’s Agreement between the Council of Europe and the Non-Profit Partnership “National Committee of Support of Motherhood and Childhood” chaired by Ms Svetlana Orlova, I am confident that we are paving the way towards an unprecedented effort to mobilise Russian society against sexual violence.
 
Let me first refer to the Lanzarote Convention.
 
The Lanzarote Convention is the first international treaty to address all forms of sexual violence against children. Its trademark is the so-called four “P” approach: prevention of violence, protection of child victims, prosecution of offenders, and partnerships.
 
 
To prevent sexual violence, the Lanzarote Convention notably requests:
 
Þ   the screening and training of professionals in contact with children;
Þ   awareness raising and education programmes;
Þ   intervention programmes for potential perpetrators;
Þ   the mobilisation of the media and the private sector and
Þ   involving children in the design and implementation of prevention measures.
 
To protect child victims, the Convention requests:
Þ   child friendly reporting mechanisms;
Þ   the creation of independent child rights defenders;
Þ   intervention programmes for convicted criminals;
Þ   child friendly judicial procedures and
Þ   assistance for the victims and their families (be it medical, psychological, legal, or other) .
To end with the impunity of the criminals, the Convention foresees:
Þ   the definition and criminalisation of all forms of sexual violence, including those committed with the help of internet;
Þ   the extension of the limitation period which starts running when the child reaches majority;
Þ   the possibility to prosecute for offences committed in another country even if the act is not an offence in that country and
Þ   measures to ensure corporate liability and avoid impunity by legal persons.  
The Convention wants to gain a better understanding of the phenomenon of sexual violence and to increase the effectiveness of the measures taken to address it.
To do so, the Convention calls for:
Þ   the establishment of coordinating bodies at national level;
Þ   data collection mechanisms;
Þ   cooperation amongst stakeholders and partnerships with the media and the private sector;
Þ   child participation
Þ   exchange of information at international level.
I am convinced that the Lanzarote Convention is the best chance that the international community has to effectively address sexual violence against children. To date, 18 countries have ratified this Convention and 25 other have signed it. Russia has neither signed nor ratified it. Russia is also absent from the list of States Parties to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography.
 

I know that Russia is now committed to put an end to sexual abuse and exploitation of children and that you are currently reviewing your legislation to this end. Joining the international community in this effort should be a natural consequence of this commitment.

I am pleased to inform you that the Committee of the Parties to the Lanzarote Convention is meeting today and tomorrow for the second time. I am fully confident that this Committee will become a dynamic forum for exchange of knowledge and experience, development of expertise and identification of solutions to the most pressing problems.
 
How to fight against child pornography, what to do with children who exhibit sexual harmful behaviour, how to deal with sex offense recidivism without compromising human rights and fundamental freedoms are some of the questions we want to discuss. I know these issues are being discussed in Russia as well. One of the benefits of international co-operation is the opportunity it provides to get inspiration from other countries experiences and to avoid some traps. It is therefore of fundamental importance that the Russian Federation appoint a representative to the Lanzarote Committee so that you can take advantage of its work as from now.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

 
We like to refer to the ONE in FIVE Campaign as an “empowerment campaign”. We do so because one of the campaign’s results should be to provide people with the tools they need to contribute to the prevention and elimination of sexual abuse and exploitation of children.
 
For instance: We noticed that many countries have difficulties in addressing the issue of sexual abuse within the child’s circle of trust, i.e. the family and other people the child knows and trusts. In particular, parents lack information and tools to protect their children and to contribute to the prevention effort.
 
We have therefore developed awareness-raising material specially designed to help parents and carers to raise this sensitive issue with very young children (aged 4-7). The material evolves around a character called “Kiko” who helps children to prevent, identify and report abuse, for instance by explaining the differences between good and bad touch, good and bad secrets or by asking children to identify at least 3 people to whom they would talk if they feel worried or unease with a person or situation.
 
This material includes a TV spot, a children’s book, a website and a simple guide for parents. It is also used in many countries by health professionals, teachers, sports trainers or social workers.
 
I am of course delighted to see Kiko so warmly welcome in the Russian Federation!. I hope that Kiko will soon become a friend of Russian children but also of many prominent Russian figures who will, through their support to the campaign, draw public attention to the sometimes very simple measures that anyone can take to help stop sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children.
 
Coming back to implementation of the ONE in FIVE Campaign in the Russian Federation, we thank Ms Orlova for sharing with us the initial ONE in FIVE Campaign plans for Russia including the intention to develop its parliamentary and its local and regional dimensions.

 
Ladies and Gentlemen,
 
Last February, the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers adopted a new strategy on the right of the child for the coming four years (2012-2015). This strategy will focus of the implementation of the legal standards adopted by our 47 member states. I trust I can count on the Russian Federation’s contribution to our effort to build a Europe for and with children. You can obviously count on the Council of Europe’s support in the building of a Russia for and with children.
 
English writer G.K. Chesterton once said that “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”
 
May we succeed in making our children feel like Harry Potter, at the same time strong, surrounded by loyal friends and protected by magic powers. May our values become our magic wand.
 
I wish you every success in your endeavours!
 
Thank you.
 


[1] According to figures from ECPAT, of the 80,000 to 130,000 sex trade victims in Moscow, 20 to 25% are minors; of the 70,000 victims of trafficking for prostitution in Moscow, 80% are underage children.