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F o r u m
“United against violence towards children and women”
organised by the Senate of Mexico
Statements by the Deputy Secretary General
of the Council of Europe
Ms Maud de Boer-Buquicchio
(Thursday, 22 March 2012)
Mr President of the Senate,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Words matter. Looking for the etymology of some words is like making a discovery trip into the inner depths of human history and nature.
Let’s take the word “domestic”. Domestic comes from domus, which means ‘house’ in Latin. In Ancient Rome, the domus was ruled by the dominus, the ‘pater familias’ who dominated in all matters related to his household (including his wife, his children, his slaves and the objects inside the house).
In Ancient Rome, the law put women under men’s control and authority: no right to property, no access to justice, no voting rights for women. According to Cicero, women were placed under the control of guardians “because of their innate weakness”.
Some 28 centuries later, at least in Europe, we have removed most of those incredible laws, achieving a “de iure” gender equality. But the reality is that men still dominate today’s political, economic and social life. The unacceptable extent of violence against women is an expression of this domination. Women and girls are victims of psychological and physical violence, murder, rape, genital mutilation, sexual harassment, forced marriage, forced abortion and sterilisation. Just because they are women.
In Ancient Rome, the pater familias had the power of life and death over his children, he could choose to raise them or to kill them. He could punish them by execution or exposure, sell them as slaves or break their marriages. Children were trained to obey.
Some 28 centuries later, all countries recognise children as holders of rights, including the right to be protected from violence. And yet. Children are victims of the most terrible violations of their human rights. Children are raped, killed, exploited, abused, tortured, neglected, abandoned, harassed, humiliated and manipulated.
A child’s suffering is an adult’s magnified. They cannot defend themselves from violent acts and they are not equipped to heal the wounds which often remain open for the rest of their lives. Children lack access to basic services and rights and their suffering is either invisible or ignored.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The Romans also made a difference between domus and forum (the private and the public life). Historians quote Cicero as the first to say that the home should be a “safe haven”. It seems, by the way, that he wrote that after somebody tried to kill him at his home.
Have things evolved since? Unfortunately not. The home is the theatre of many abuses. The millions of victims are mostly women and children, but it can also be anyone in a position of vulnerability, including people with disabilities or the elderly. Abuse may occur in the privacy of someone’s home, but it is never a private matter. On the contrary, it should be a public concern.
We cannot wait for another 28 centuries to make sure that women, children and homes are safe from fear and safe from violence.
This is precisely why the promotion of women’s and children’s rights and the elimination of all forms of violence against them has become a priority for the Council of Europe. Although our action in these two fields varies in many respects, there are a few features that are common to any long term vision for the elimination of violence against women and against children:
First: the need to adopt an integrated approach based on the 4 Ps: prevention, protection, prosecution and partnerships;
Second: the importance to clearly identify the leading agency at governmental level that will co-ordinate the action of the government and will co-operate with all relevant actors at national, regional and local level, including human rights defenders, civil society, professional networks, the media, the private sector and research institutions;
Third: the need to invest in research and data collection so that we are better equipped to address the problems;
Fourth: the importance of promoting a culture of respect for human rights and a climate of zero tolerance against violence.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In Mexico and in Europe, the challenges are very much the same. I said at the beginning that words matter. But actions matter even more! I am therefore very pleased to be here today and listen to the measures you are taking to put an end to sexual violence against children and to violence against women. I am also pleased to bring to this table the experience of the Council of Europe and its 47 member states. The solutions we have found are embedded in two important conventions that I shall be delighted to describe later on.
Thank you, Senator Sosa for your kind invitation and thank you all for your attention.
* * *
Sexual abuse of children
Ladies and Gentlemen,
For many years now, the Council of Europe has been working on effectively addressing 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. We understand this Convention, which Mexico has ratified in 1990, not as a “pick and choose” catalogue, but rather as a set of important instructions to follow. One of these instructions is that children shall be protected from all forms of violence. Therefore, we are promoting a culture of ‘zero tolerance’ against violence.
How do we do that in practice? Our approach to protect children from violence 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, our Committee of Ministers adopted a set of Guidelines on integrated national strategies on the protection of children from violence. I am convinced that these guidelines could also help Mexico to make the progress needed in this field. Let me tell you why:
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:
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;
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.
A strategy is a framework for 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 not only a violation of children’s rights to respect for physical integrity and human dignity it also teaches children that violence is an acceptable and appropriate strategy for resolving conflict or getting people to do what they want. Last but not least, all available research shows that on the long term corporal punishment is absolutely ineffective as a means of discipline.
32 countries in the world have fully prohibited all corporal punishment of children in law, including 22 Council of Europe member states and three Latin American countries (Costa Rica, Uruguay and Venezuela). I hope that Mexico will soon join this list.
The next topic that we have decided to address is sexual violence against children.
The speakers before me have already described the drama that millions of children live today. The Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (also called the “Lanzarote Convention”) is an efficient response to a situation which calls for determined and urgent action. Its entry into force in 2010 represented a significant advance in preventing sexual violence, protecting children and combating impunity. It is the first international instrument to treat sexual abuse of children as a crime, irrespective of where or by whom it is committed – at home, in a child care institution, through organised crime networks, or the Internet.
To date, the Lanzarote Convention has been ratified by 18 countries in Europe. It is a treaty made in Europe but not meant for Europe only. I am convinced that Mexico could benefit a lot from being a part of the “Lanzarote Family” and I hope that all of you here will support Mexico’s accession to this treaty. In the meantime, I encourage Mexico to get inspiration from its provisions when reviewing legislation and designing policies.
In this context, I am particularly pleased to welcome Mexico to our “One in Five” campaign to stop sexual violence against children. This campaign has being designed to promote the Lanzarote Convention, to raise awareness of the extent of sexual violence and to provide people with the tools they need to protect children and to prevent and report sexual violence. It is an empowering campaign based on the assumption that all of us can and should contribute to the campaign aims with ideas, actions and networking.
I would just like to highlight one example of our activities within this campaign: 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 by other people the child knows of and trusts. Therefore, we have developed awareness-raising and information material around a character called “Kiko”. The material aims to help children to prevent, identify and report abuse, for instance by explaining the differences between good and bad touch, good and bad secrets or by identifying 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 designed to help parents discuss this sensitive issue with their young children and has proved to be extremely useful also in other contexts. It is for instance used in many countries by health professionals, teachers or social workers.
In Spain, for instance, a tool has been designed to train professionals to use this material and the organisations providing the training sessions are overwhelmed with the demand.
I am therefore delighted to see Kiko so warmly welcome in Mexico. I hope that Kiko will soon become a friend of Mexican children but also of many prominent Mexican 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.
Once again, thanks for inviting both Kiko and me to this Forum!
* * *
Violence against women
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Gender-based violence is an issue in every continent, country and town. It is an issue in every context: at work, in the street, in the media, at home. And it should therefore be an issue of concern for every government, parliament and citizen.
Last year, the Council of Europe adopted a Convention on preventing and combatting violence against women and domestic violence: the “Istanbul Convention”.
The Istanbul Convention indeed marks an important step forward to preventing and combatting violence against women and domestic violence and to putting an end to impunity. It is the first legally binding instrument in Europe on violence against women and domestic violence and in terms of scope, it is the most far-reaching international treaty in this field.
It makes clear that violence against women is a violation of human rights and that states have an obligation to prevent violence, protect victims and punish perpetrators.
The Convention is an extremely comprehensive legal framework containing a wide range of specific measures that states have to take and which I cannot describe in detail now. Let me just underline that, by accepting the Convention, governments are obliged to change their laws, their policies and their practices, taking practical measures and allocating resources to create a zero tolerance zone for violence against women and domestic violence. It also introduces a whole new approach to violence prevention and victim protection by requiring all relevant actors to co-operate and co-ordinate in order to weave a safety net around the victim: criminal justice, police, social and health services, child protection agencies, shelter services etc.
In essence, it is a renewed call for greater equality between women and men, which also seeks to change the hearts and minds of individuals by calling on all members of society, in particular men and boys, to change attitudes and behaviours.
What is clear is that the Istanbul Convention provides the necessary tools for governments and for societies to assume their responsibilities and make a real difference. To date, it has been signed by 18 member states of the Council of Europe and ratified by Turkey. Ten ratifications are required for the Convention to enter into force.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Istanbul Convention was made in Europe but it is not meant for Europe only. Non-European States can also accede to this treaty. Its provisions can be and are already being used as a reference and as inspiration for laws and policies worldwide. I know that Mexico has ratified the Belem do Para Convention on violence against women and has also participated in the negotiations of the Istanbul Convention.
The Istanbul Convention brings further the standards of the Belem do Para Convention, in particular with regard to protection measures, criminalisation of offences and protection of children as witnesses of domestic violence. It also provides a legal framework for other victims of domestic violence. Acceding to this new treaty is a step forward that I encourage you to make.
It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the terrible stories revealed by the media or the ones we know through our daily work with victims of violence. It is therefore important to constantly review the progress we are making, the changes we can bring about, the support we can offer. Each one of us. I cannot imagine a more rewarding and worthwhile project than defending human dignity and empowering people to stand up for their rights. I therefore encourage you to keep investing in this mission which goes well beyond any political differences.
Thank you for your attention.