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Stopping sexual violence against children through international standards
United Nations, New York - 28 February 2011


A side event at the 55th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women organised by the Council of Europe in co-operation with the Permanent mission of Ukraine to the United Nations and the UN SR of the Secretary General on Violence against Children

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


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Sexual violence against children is the least visible and the least acknowledged of all forms of violence against children. It can take many forms, including sexual abuse, child prostitution, pedopornography, grooming and corruption of children through exposure to sexual content or activities.

The scarce data available in Europe estimates that about 1 in 5 children fall victim to some form of sexual violence. In 70 to 85% of cases, the abuse is committed by persons in a position of trust, authority or influence over the child such us relatives, neighbours, carers and also other children.

Sexual violence is an attack on child’s human dignity and is a serious violation of children’s rights. It causes irreparable damage to the victim’s physical and mental health and often has a life-long lasting effect.

Studies in Europe suggest that only around 10% of cases come to the notice of child protection services. Most child victims do not report sexual violence because they feel fear, shame and guilt, or simply because they do not know whom to turn to. Adults may also fail to report on it, not knowing what to do or say if they suspect sexual abuse.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am here today to join forces with the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary General on violence against children, my friend, Marta Santos Pais.
It is no secret: we are both campaigning here. We want to make sure that the necessary action is taken to eliminate all forms of sexual violence against children, as a matter of urgency.

We have invited you to discuss the two most important legal instruments designed to combat sexual violence against children:

the UN Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child pornography and prostitution and
the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, also known as the Lanzarote Convention.

The protocol and the convention complement each other. Marta will later introduce you to the protocol. I shall use my remaining few minutes to present the main features of 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 the promotion of Partnerships and participation policies.

To prevent sexual violence, the Lanzarote Convention notably requests:

- the screening and training of professionals in contact with children;
- sexuality education;
- awareness-raising and intervention programmes for potential perpetrators.

To protect child victims, the Convention requests:

- child-friendly reporting mechanisms;
- the creation of independent child rights defenders;
- intervention programmes for convicted criminals;
- child friendly judicial procedures and 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:

- the definition and criminalisation of all forms of sexual violence, including those committed with the help of internet;
- the extension of the limitation period beyond the age of majority;
- the possibility to prosecute for offences committed in another country even if the act is not an offence in that country and measures to ensure corporate liability and avoid impunity by legal persons.

The partnerships and participation policy includes:

- the mobilisation of the private sector, notably the information and communication technology sector, the tourism and travel industry and the banking and financial sectors;
- the encouragement of media to disseminate information on sexual violence;
- the financing of projects by civil society including by the creation of specific funds;
involving children in the design and implementation of prevention measures;
- involving parents in the development of sexuality education programmes.

Last, but not least, 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:

- the establishment of coordinating bodies at national level;
- data collection mechanisms;
- co-operation amongst stakeholders and exchange of information at international level.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Each week, a new scandal of sexual abuse hits the headlines in one of the Council of Europe member States. These scandals deeply move the citizens in these countries who feel anger and call for revenge. They also feel sorrow for the victims and fear for their own children. But these feelings are not empowering people to change the situation.

Professionals working with children, parents and the children themselves need information and tools to prevent and report sexual violence. Social partners need guidance and opportunities to contribute to the fight against sexual violence.

This is why the new Council of Europe campaign “ONE in FIVE” is not an awareness-raising campaign. It’s an empowering campaign. It is designed to promote the Lanzarote Convention and its provisions through concrete guidance to implementation, the development of tools to be used by parents, professionals and social partners and through the creation of opportunities for the private sector, the media and civil society to join and support the much-needed action.

Allow me to give you just one example:

Before launching the campaign, we undertook a needs assessment. Experts explained to us that taboos surrounding sexuality are so strong that many parents either avoid or delay conversations on this matter with their children. This is a situation that child predators abuse to lock children within the walls of shame, secrecy or guilt. We realised that parents needed guidance to discuss these sensitive matters with their young children.

To address this need, we developed “The Underwear rule” material, part of which is on display in this room. The creation of this material was possible thanks to the pro bono work done by the leading communication agency GREY Amsterdam. Broadcasting agencies, the media, the publishing sector, professional networks and civil society are now investing in the dissemination of the TV spot and the children’s book so that they reach a maximum of parents and children worldwide. This is therefore a perfect example of how the various social partners can join forces and talents to address a concrete and urgent need.

Of course, the campaign aims to obtain the widest possible ratification of the Lanzarote Convention, a young and ambitious convention that needs more than just a quick debate and a “pro-forma” signature.

To assist in the ratification and the implementation process, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has created a network of contact parliamentarians who will actively promote this treaty in Europe and beyond.

The ratification process has been launched in many countries now. I am confident that, very soon, many other States will join the 11 that have already ratified the Lanzarote Convention.

Last but not least, the Council of Europe is co-operating with many of its member States, the European Union, UNICEF, OHCHR and other international organisations to assist countries in the development of legislation, policies, institutions and professional training. I am very grateful to Ambassador Sergeyev for hosting this event and having accepted to share with us developments in his country. Ukraine will soon ensure the chairmanship of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers and placed children’s rights high in its programme.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I started referring to the complementarity between the two treaties we are discussing today. I really mean it.

There is a universal commitment to children’s rights that needs to be followed by universal accountability. The Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child pornography and prostitution provides a common legal space for all countries in the world to effectively fight the worst forms of violence against children. This is why I fully support the U.N. campaign for its universal ratification. The Lanzarote Convention enlarges this international protection to other forms of sexual violence (such as sexual abuse within the family, grooming or corruption of children) affecting millions of children worldwide.

The Lanzarote Convention is a treaty “made in Europe” but it is not “made for Europe only”. As I see it, there are three ways to prove that:

First: the Convention is open to accession by non European countries;
Second: the Convention provisions can serve as a reference when amending legislation, developing policies or setting up reporting mechanisms in non-European countries;
Third: All our material and resources are at the disposal of anyone wishing to campaign against sexual violence.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I foresee many strategic opportunities to meet together the targets of the United Nations and the Council of Europe campaigns for the signature, ratification and effective implementation of these legal instruments. I am convinced that with your support, we shall make the most out of them.

The American poet Robert Frost once wrote:

“We dance round in a ring and suppose,
While the secret sits in the middle and knows”

But we are not here to dance round in a ring. We are here to meet the secret in the middle and bring it out of our circle. I am very confident that with your support and the help of the United Nations family our campaigns will widen the circle and eventually embrace all the world’s children.

Thank you very much for your attention.