9 February 2012
(Palais de l’Europe, room 5, opening at 9 am)
About 150 million children live in the Council of Europe 47 member states. Let me be more concrete: about 150 million children live, learn and play in the villages, towns and cities of all our member states.
According to available data, around 20% of these children are victims of some kind of sexual violence. The magnitude of the problem has pushed the Council of Europe to lead an international effort to eliminate all forms of sexual violence, including sexual abuse within the family.
With the Convention on the protection of children against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse (the Lanzarote Convention), we wish governments to commit and to take concrete actions in order to eliminate this scourge. With the One in Five Campaign, we want this to become a cause for everybody. A cause for governments, for parliaments, for local and regional authorities, for professionals working with children, for civil society, for the media, for parents and, of course, for children as well.
Yes, we need governments to ratify the Lanzarote Convention. For this, we need political commitment at state level. The network of contact parliamentarians within our Parliamentary Assembly is playing a critical role by placing this topic on the Parliaments’ tables. This is very important, but not enough. These standards have to be implemented and this cannot be done without a strong political commitment at local and regional level.
As you certainly know, the Lanzarote Convention is built upon four pillars or major objectives (the four Ps): Prevention, Protection, Prosecution and Partnerships.
I think the Congress and its members have a key role to play to help our society to meet these objectives. You have an important role to play in preventing sexual violence and protecting children.
Most cases of sexual violence occur in the places where children live, play or learn. Most local and regional authorities have competences or at least some degree of responsibility in the running and supervision of kinder gardens, schools, leisure centres, sports facilities, detention or retention centres and street safety. You also have staff working with children and multiple points of contacts with children and their families. You develop social, education, safety and health policies that have an impact on children. You have direct ways of communication with people living in your communities.
Sexual violence against a child is a difficult topic to address, in particular because it implies admitting the existence of abusers operating “under cover” of a father, an aunt, a teacher, a sports trainer, a nurse or a priest. The truth is that abusers take advantage of the secret, of the denial and the embarrassment and keep haunting and preying on children for years. Your first responsibility is therefore to go beyond denial, break the silence and put the problem on the table. So that prevention programmes can be developed.
Local authorities often run campaigns to increase children’s safety in the street, to fight addictions or to promote a healthy life style. All these topics are very important and fairly easy to address. Sexual violence is not an easy topic. But you have to address it. Yes, you may never know the many cases you managed to prevent thanks to these prevention measures. There will always be a child you couldn’t protect. There will always be an abuser that will continue to harm children in all impunity.
But, wouldn’t it, at least, be important to say that you did all you could do to stop sexual exploitation and abuse of children?
I think that, in the context of your daily work, empowerment is the keyword. You can empower people in many ways:
You can start explaining the extent of the problem and invite people to take measures to prevent it. But you can do better: you can listen to people’s needs and create the tools, the training and the opportunities they need to play an active role in the solution of the problem. This includes giving parents and carers a child-friendly material to discuss this topic with children (like Kiko’s material). This also includes training teachers, social workers, police officers and health professionals to make sure they can identify possible abuse cases and know how to react, how to protect and support the victims and how to make sure that the offender is prosecuted.
You can also create places for professionals from various disciplines to meet and combine expertise and efforts to provide each individual child victim with the best possible support. And the best possible support is one that is child-friendly because it protects children’s rights and best interests. At the Council of Europe, we have explored in depth how to make the justice system, the provision of health care and social services child friendly. I warmly encourage you to discover the result of this work. You may be surprised to see that many of the proposed measures are extremely easy to put in place.
Last, but not least, let me encourage you to invest in partnerships. The possibilities are endless: Networking and sharing good practices with other local and regional authorities, co-operating with civil society and professional networks, involving parents associations in prevention measures, inviting the media to contribute to awareness raising campaigns, inviting the private sector to finance concrete measures, using major local events (such as film festivals, football matches or street festivals) to engage in a debate with the citizens, calling upon the creativity of young people to help you to communicate with children. To name but a few.
Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am easily driven by enthusiasm when I think of the potential of our One in Five campaign. At the same time, I feel desperate at times because of the slow progress and resistance I still perceive in many fora. I am however reassured and confident because the campaign is now also in your hands. You have shown interest. You have expressed political commitment. You are now embarking on an exchange with experts - which means, that you are getting ready for action!
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I have taken many planes in my life. I used to wonder how the pilot must feel, having the responsibility for all the passengers and the crew. Now I know. Because I feel responsible for the lives of millions of children. Not because I am a woman, a mother and a grandmother. Not because I am a human rights lawyer. Not because I am the Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe. But rather because I think this is an inbuilt responsibility in each single adult. To face it or not to face it - that is the question.
Thank you for your attention.