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INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE“COMBATING VIOLENCE AGAINST CHILDREN: FROM ISOLATED ACTIONS TO INTEGRATED STRATEGIES”
OPENING SESSION

 

Speech by Ms Maud de Boer-Buquicchio,
Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe

 

Kyiv, 24 May 2011

Vice Prime Minister,
Chairman of the Committee of Ministers
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

A famous Ukrainian humanistic educator, Vasyl Sukhomlinsky once wrote: “Childhood is real, dear, genuine and unrepeatable in life. And all the events of that period, the persons leading the child through these years, what the child has learnt and felt through heart and mind from the world around it: all these things will determine to a large extent what kind of person the child will become”.

Regrettably, routine exposure to physical, sexual and psychological violence continues to be a reality for many of Europe’s 150 million children. Violence overtakes them in homes and in schools, in care and justice systems, in places of work and in the communities. All forms of violence, even the mildest ones, leave a print on the child’s mind and soul and may have devastating consequences for the child’s health and well-being. Violence continues to haunt the child also when he or she grows into an adult. The consequences violence has on individual children also translate into a substantial financial burden for society and the international community at large.

This is why, since 2005, the Council of Europe is working to effectively address the phenomenon of violence in all its complexity and in a sustainable way.

Our approach is two-fold:

On the one hand, we want to create the conditions to eliminate all existing and emerging forms of violence. This can only be done through the adoption of strong national strategies likely to address social, economic and political challenges.

On the other hand, we have designed tools to address some very widespread forms of violence, like corporal punishment and sexual violence.

But what do we mean by “strategies”?
There is a Chinese text dating back to the 6th century BC called “The Art of War”. It is is one of the oldest and most successful texts on military strategy in the world. It is still read today, inspiring business and managerial strategies.

According to its author, the “Art of war” is governed by five constant factors: values, time, space, leadership and methodology. I am convinced that these very words are also keys to our strategy for children’s rights.

The first and most important key word is “values”. For our strategy to be successful, we have to be clear about the values and principles upon which it is built and which we have to share. These values and principles are outlined in the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child. Many other universal and Council of Europe instruments offer guidance on how to apply these values to specific situations. These legal texts are not “pick and choose” catalogues, but rather a set of important instructions to follow. A child rights based strategy means that we are not working to be “nice” to children. We are first and foremost working to be “fair” to children. A strategy against violence implies a culture of zero tolerance against violence also expressed through the explicit prohibition of all forms of violence against children.

Now a few words about time and space.

In the “Art of War”, these words refer to the variables that need to be taken into account before taking a decision, for a strategy needs to be contextualised and adapt to an evolving environment.

What do we know about violence affecting children? The estimates of the amount of children victims of violence are appalling. The title of the Council of Europe campaign to stop sexual violence against children says it all: One in Five. Unfortunately, we are far from having a clear picture of the situation. I do not need to be an expert to conclude that for a strategy to produce the best possible results, it has to be built on evidence and on accurate and properly analysed data. This is why I am calling upon you to invest in research in this field. We need to know the cases and the causes, but also the other factors that have an impact on violence, its prevention and its elimination. Last, but not least, we need to know better the mechanism leading to resilience by children victims of violence.

The fourth key word is leadership.

Children and their causes need strong advocates and leaders willing to uphold their values with vision, honesty and courage.

Some people think that children’s rights is an uncontroversial cause and hence an easy to adhere to. I wish this was true. But I have discussed with many parents and social workers who justify spanking in the name of education, judges who believe that jail is a deserved punishment for a 12 years old thief, internet suppliers who think children’s safety is none of their business, school principals who fight violence with more violent discipline and less rights.

We indeed need leadership and clear commitment. This is why I was delighted to learn that Ukraine had chosen to place children’s rights at the top of its agenda for the Chairmanship of the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers. We have to make the utmost of this leadership so that both Ukraine and the rest of Europe keep collecting its fruits in the years to come. The preparation of the Council of Europe strategy for 2012-2015 offers us a unique opportunity to make this happen.

Let me now turn to the last key word, “Methodology”.

The complexity of the phenomenon of violence calls for an approach that takes into account its multiple dimensions, involves the various actors and penetrates all possible disciplines. For a strategy to be sustainable, it has to organise all these elements and define their respective scope of intervention, their interrelations, and their working methods.
A “top down” strategy that neglects the needs and the views of those who are going to implement it has no better chances that a “bottom up” strategy that disregards the social, economic and political context and that lacks leadership. More than a vertical process, we need a horizontal process that can then project its benefits in all directions. This is the precisely the approach that the organisers of this conference have taken.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

For many hundred years, humankind history has been a sequence of battles and conflicts. The ambitions and values which inspired each side of each conflict were impossible to reconcile.

More than 2.500 years after the “Art of war” was written, humankind gave birth to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a text enumerating all the universal values likely to federate all nations around a lasting peace project. It is precisely because of his work in support of this text in China that Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 and is now in prison.

The Universal declaration is indeed the first of a series of treaties which, one day, we should codify in an “Art of Peace” Code.

The chapter devoted to children’s rights already contains the ingredients we need to build a child friendly Europe. Let me briefly describe one of them.

In November 2009, 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. This document lies at the heart of today’s conference and guides all Council of Europe actions in this field. The Guidelines propose a vision on how to develop an integrated national strategy to combat violence against children and suggest a model based on a number of key components. These include:

§ the legislative framework prioritising prevention of violence and prohibiting all forms of violence against children, including all corporal punishment within the family/home;

 

§ 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;

 

§ the culture of zero tolerance to violence against children within society and specifically amongst professionals working in contact with children;

 

§ 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;

§ the availability and proper analysis of data translated into a national research agenda; and finally

 

§ 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.


The Council of Europe Guidelines bring together - for the first time and in a single text - all relevant international and European standards across many sectors and across actors responsible for their implementation at national, regional and municipal level. In essence, the Guidelines serve as a navigation chart, helping decision-makers and stakeholders align their action to the latest case law of the European Court of Human Rights, Council of Europe conventions, recommendations of the Committee of Ministers and good practices from Council of Europe member states.

The Guidelines have been prepared in response to a recommendation of the 2006 UN Study on Violence against Children, which called upon states to develop by 2009 an integrated national strategy on violence against children and to identify a focal point to oversee the implementation of measures to prevent and respond to violence. Their elaboration benefited from the expert insight and the drive of Marta Santos Pais, the UN Secretary-General’s Representative on Violence against Children, whom I warmly welcome here today.

To date, approximately one third of 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, to accompany the remaining governments in the process of elaborating a national strategy.

I trust that the debates during this conference will also inspire the government of Ukraine to carry further the implementation of the National Action Plan for Children 2010-2016 and to take strong action to implement existing legislation prohibiting all forms of violence against children.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Before concluding, let me thank our host, the Ukrainian government and in particular the State Service for Youth and Sports of Ukraine which has spear-headed the conference preparations, turning it into a major event of the Ukrainian Chairmanship. Our Conference partners at the UNICEF Geneva and Kiev offices also deserve high praise for their dedicated support and contribution. I should also thank the European Union, whose support for the children’s rights agenda in the region is highly appreciated. And last, but not least:
I would like to thank all participants who have decided to share with us their expertise and who will hopefully leave this Ukrainian House feeling as part of a Europe-wide strategy for children’s rights.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Vasyl Sukhomlinsky said “There should not be any nobodies – specks of dust cast upon the wind. Each must shine just as billions upon billions of galaxies shine in the heavens.”

Clearly, violence denies children’s dignity, it scars their bodies and emasculates their souls. Important work lies ahead of us before all children in Europe can rise as bright twinkling stars to take their place in a child-friendly universe. A universe governed by the Art of Peace. Thank you for your attention.