Stockholm, 20 November 2009
Embargo until delivery / check against delivery
Your Royal Highnesses,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
20 years ago, the United Nations offered a wonderful present to children throughout the world: the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This present came with a promise from 193 countries to respect, protect and empower children. Unfortunately, the state of the world for children shows that we still have many promises to keep.
So: I come to this birthday party with mixed feelings.
First, I am proud because I did find a few good presents for the children.
- I found a nice set of building blocks called the Council of Europe
The 47 member States of the Council of Europe have all ratified the UN Convention on the rights of the child. We share with the rest of the world a strong commitment to the well-being and the best interests of children and the protection of their fundamental rights. The starting point for our work is in recognising that children are not mini-persons with mini-human rights - in fact they need more protection, not less.
The protection and promotion of children’s rights have gained momentum in recent years. With the launching of its programme “Building a Europe for and with children” in 2006 following the Warsaw Summit, the Council of Europe has managed to put children’s best interests high on the political agenda.
The Council of Europe is working to promote children’s rights, to protect and empower children and to prevent child rights violations. We do this not just because children are “our future”, but because we are clearly responsible for our children’s present.
We are a regional organisation based upon universal values: our results can therefore be used worldwide. Our building blocks are our legal standards, our monitoring mechanisms, the policies we develop, our assistance and co-operation programmes and awareness-raising activities. We mobilise governments, parliaments, local authorities, NGOs and professional networks because together, we can make a difference to the lives of millions of children. As a result, the legal protection of children has improved and awareness of children’s needs and rights has considerably increased.
- My second present is a backpack which I filled with food, sweets, maps, a compass, books and an emergency kit
The international agenda is indeed filled with very important actions aiming to protect children from different forms of violence (such as sexual exploitation, trafficking, the protection of children in armed conflicts or from child labour). Children’s right to health, education and food are also addressed through impressive mobilisation of resources, political action and charity work. The Council of Europe programme on human rights education is a compass for children that empowers them giving them guidance on how to stand for their rights.
- My third present is a new gadget called “My-Phone”. It is a direct line with professionals and independent institutions that children can contact if they need help or advice. Ombudspersons are made to be noisy and be heard. I believe that it is essential to support these institutions, even when they play a music we do not particularly like to hear...
I said I was proud of the three presents I found. But I am also worried because I know that children need much more than that. And they need it now.
- Unfortunately, I cannot offer them today a special life jacket that would keep them safe and protect them from all forms of violence. Children are still exposed to many other forms of violence (such as domestic violence, internet-related dangers, harmful practices or violence at school). This is because of traditions, legal loopholes or the confusion between education and taming or formatting. Children continue to be the first victims of crisis: be it political, economic or social.
- I could not find a VIP badge for children either, a badge which would give them universal access to all the assistance and care they need, regardless of their origins, nationality or legal status. As a result, there are different categories of children, depending on where, how and when they were born. Children have little access to justice and are victims of neglect and abuse in places where they are supposed to be safe.
- I also spent some time looking for a “Say Station”, a device allowing children to share their thoughts and feelings and to participate in all decisions concerning them. I was looking for the model with an in-built translator capable of converting adult jargon into plain language. I was told that there are a few engineers working on it, but that it is not yet on the market. I’m on the waiting list to receive such a prototype, and I am growing increasingly impatient for its release.
So: I am proud, I am worried and now… I am embarrassed
I feel embarrassed because the children keep waiting for their presents and our birthday ice cake is melting.
At the Council of Europe, we like keeping our promises and we are working hard on many fronts. In 2008, we launched our campaign “Raise your hand against smacking” and we now have 20 countries having abolished corporal punishment. Last year, we developed our “Stockholm Strategy” for 2009-2011. A lot has happened since then. Two days ago, our Committee of Ministers adopted our Policy Guidelines on national integrated strategies for the protection of children from violence. The future guidelines on child friendly justice are cooking; three experts groups are being launched (on child friendly social services, on child friendly health care and on child participation). We are working intensively on internet safety and media literacy and preparing the ingredients of our future campaign against sexual violence around the ratification and implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on the protection of children from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.
But all of this is the result of a team work. And although I am worried and embarrassed, I am also extremely confident.
I am confident because I know that I can keep counting on all of you.
- I count on the recently appointed Special Representative of the UNSG on violence against children, my friend Marta Santos Pais. Marta is a good fairy godmother for the Council of Europe, the one who appears when you wish upon a star…I hope she will receive all the support that she needs and deserves for her mandate. She is going to need a very powerful magic wand.
- I of course count on the European Union. The entry into force of the Lisbon treaty is a new promise made to children which I trust will crystallize in the mainstreaming of children’s rights in all EU actions and into a EU strategy on the rights of the child. Vice-President: this may be the beginning of a wonderful friendship.
- I count also on the United Nations system. I hope it will keep children very high in the agenda of all its agencies and monitoring mechanisms. I trust that children’s access to international justice will also be improved.
- I count on all the governments, the parliaments, the local authorities, the ombudspersons, the NGOs, the professional networks, the research institutions and the business community. I hope you all feel the urgency and importance of the work that needs to be done.
- Your Majesties, your Royal Highnesses, I also count on you and thank you most warmly for your continuous support to the promotion of children’s rights.
- And of course, I count on the children who will be more and more numerous to join us in the building of a Europe for and with them.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
The last feeling I wanted to share with you is happiness. I am happy because I realise that we do not have to wait until the next anniversary to keep our promises and to act, by giving our presents to children. As Alice in Wonderland knows:
“There are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents ... and only one for birthday presents”.
Let me just end by quoting one of my favourite poets, Robert Frost:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
I thank you for your attention and wish you a fruitful conference