Parliaments united in combating sexual violence against children
12th meeting on the Network of Contact Parliamentarians to stop sexual violence against children
Theme: National strategies to fight sexual violence against children
Panel discussion with the title:
“The importance of close cooperation between different stakeholders for fighting sexual violence against children”
Presentation by Mrs Leda Koursoumba, Cypriot Commissioner for Children’s Rights,
and Chair of ENOC
“The role of the Ombudspersons for Children in establishing an intersectoral collaboration at a national level”
Thursday 14 March 2013, at 14:30
German Parliament – Berlin Room “3 S 00”
“No one in the world need to be convinced that children must be fully protected from all forms of violence. Very few subjects have the same support in the international arena as the promotion and the protection of the rights of the child. Yet, in every country of the world, children continue to fear and experience violence without being adequately protected, assisted or even heard. In many cases, children are betrayed by those responsible for their protection and well being”.
The foregoing statement by Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, an independent expert with the rank of Assistant UN Secretary – General, who has prepared the first in-depth study into the global phenomenon of violence against children - presented to the General Assemby in 2006 - brings into the forefront one of the most outrageous tragedies of our times.
It reveals our failure to provide for our children a safe and protected environment for their full and harmonious development.
Sexual violence against children – sexual exploitation and sexual abuse – is probably the worst and most monstrous form of violence against children. It deteriorates the human dignity of the child; it causes irreparable damage to the victim’s physical and mental health and leads, more often than not, to life-lasting devastating consequences.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), adopted by the UN General Assembly on the 20th of November 1989, is the main legal instrument on the international protection of children’s rights, the first international legally binding instrument to set out the civil, economic, social and cultural rights of children.
The CRC serves as an important tool for the legal enforcement of children’s rights. By ratifying the CRC (and its Protocols), states signify their consent to be held accountable before the international community for guaranteeing the rights of the child, including the right to protection from all forms of sexual exploitation. Therefore, states are required to adopt laws and policies to fully implement the CRC (and its Protocols, including the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, child prostitution and child pornography - OPSC) and, subsequently, to report on their actions.
Additionally to the CRC, and, as a result of the growing amount of knowledge regarding the scope and consequences of child sexual abuse, a considerable body of type specific legislation has been produced, empowering the efforts at international, regional and national level, for its elimination.
The Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (“The Lanzarote” Convention) is the most advanced and complete standard in this field.
This Convention, described as “ground-breaking”, at the World Congress III against sexual exploitation of children and adolescents, in Rio de Janeiro in November 2008, is the first international treaty to address all forms of sexual violence against children, including child prostitution, pedopornography, grooming and corruption of children through exposure to sexual content and activities.
One of the core principles underpinning the implementation of the Convention, is the need for an effective partnership-approach between different stakeholders in the fight of sexual violence against children. While not undermining the individual – level activities, the Convention calls for systematic strategies and interventions underlining the importance of macrosystem characteristics, like legislation and social norms.
Pursuant to article 10 of the Convention:
“Each party shall take the necessary measures to ensure co-ordination on a national or local level between the different agencies in charge of the protection from, the prevention of, and the fight against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children, notably the education sector, the health sector, the social services and the law-enforcement and judicial authorities”. (Article 10.1)
In this context, the Convention appeals and urges each Party to re-assure the engagement of different segments of the society in what could be called, national coalition against sexual abuse of children, through the “co-operation between the competent state authorities, civil society and the private sector”. (Article 10.3)
A central role is accorded by the Convention to “the independent competent national or local institutions for the promotion and protection of the rights of the child”. (Article 10.2.a)
It is important to mention in this respect that, the CRC Committee (the body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child), in its General Comment No. 2 (2002), on the role of independent human rights institutions in the protection and promotion of the rights of the child (UN Doc. CRC/GC/2002/2) stresses that the establishment of such bodies falls within the commitment made by States parties upon ratification to ensure the implementation of the CRC and advances the universal realization of children’s rights. It considers that NHRIs, children’s ombudspersons/children’s commissioners and similar independent bodies are an important mechanism to promote and monitor the implementation of the CRC, which must be compatible with the “Paris Principles”.
In most European states, independent national children’s rights institutions function/ operate, in various forms and schemes.
In 1997, the European Network of Ombudpersons for Children (ENOC) was formed, comprising independent children’s rights institutions active in member states of the Council of Europe. Today we number 41 members in 33 states (some states have more than 1 regional ombuds for children), fully compatible with the “Paris Principles”, that is established by law which safeguards their independence from Government and provides for their competence to promote children’s rights. ENOC is considered to be one of the main stakeholders at European level for the promotion and protection of children’s rights. It aims to promote and safeguard children's rights, to work on strategies for the fullest possible implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and to act as a collective voice advocating for Europe’s children.
One of the main issues of concern for all ENOC members and for the Network itself, is the prevention of, and the protection of children from, sexual abuse and sexual exploitation. Being committed to working closely with the Council of Europe and with the European Union, ENOC provides full support for the promotion of the on-going campaign “ONE in FIVE” of the CoE and to all its efforts to stop sexual violence against children. In this context, the Bureau of ENOC, at its last meeting, decided to take on board the campaign and confirmed its interest to devote its 2014 Annual Conference to the issue of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children.
Independent children’s rights institutions, members of ENOC, are fully devoted to the protection and the promotion of children’s rights in general and, to this end, moving beyond their basic monitoring role, they carry a wide range of activities at national level, often, within the parameters of positions taken by ENOC.
Now I will tell you, by way of example, what I do in Cyprus. It is important to mention that the institution of the Cypriot Commissioner for Children’s Rights was established by law safeguarding its total independence from Government in full compliance with the “Paris Principles”. The law gives the Commissioner unlimited powers to protect and promote children’s rights. We can say that we function under four pillars:
(a) Monitoring role – we monitor legislation, policies, practices and procedures and make recommendations to the Government, the Parliament, as well as the private sector for their full compatibility with the UNCRC.
(b) Promoting public awareness on children’s rights.
(c) Empowerment of children
(d) Representing children and their interest, including before courts.
Within this framework, as the Commissioner for Children’s Rights in Cyprus, I have put very high in my agenda the fight against sexual abuse of children. The actions undertaken fall mainly within the first three pillars, that is, addressing the Government and the Parliament (both in relation to the exercise of Legislative power as well as Parliamentary control) efforts to raise awareness among the society, adults and children, on the issue, and empowerment of children.
Actions undertaken by my Office to this direction include public interventions (through the media) and communications, aiming either to raise awareness on the issue and the need for measures to be taken or to scrutinize specific practices and procedures (e.g. the manner of taking testimony of children in cases of alleged sexual abuse) and, where appropriate, to express disagreement with court decisions on sexual abuse cases.
One of my main priorities, even before the launching of the Council of Europe campaign to combat sexual abuse, was to call for the need to establish a National Strategy and an Action Plan to prevent and combat any form of abuse against children, both within and out the family context. In this respect, I addressed the competent Minister for collaboration in calling upon all stakeholders, both governmental (e.g. Social Welfare Services, Mental Health Services, Police) and non-governmental, in an effort to identify roles/responsibilities of each sector and agency in preventing violence against children.
In particular, concerning sexual abuse of children, I called upon the competent Minister to take the initiative for establishing a “National Committee”, comprising all stakeholders (e.g. government agencies, myself as Children’s Commissioner, NGOs, civil society, local authorities, media, parents, unions of all levels of education) for the realization of the CoE campaign “One in Five”. A program of activities has been agreed using their existing structures/programmes and building new ones.
In parallel, with an intervention before the competent Parliamentary Committee, I put for consideration a series of actions that need to be undertaken for the protection of children from sexual exploitation and abuse and called upon them, in the exercise of Parliamentary control, to exert pressure on the Government for implementation. These include, inter alia:
Other related actions that I have undertaken, in respect to the fight of sexual abuse of children include :
- An increased mobilisation of all agencies for the promotion and protection of children’s rights and for empowering children themselves and their families
- Adoption of multifaceted, interdisciplinary measures, including laws, policies, programmes, mechanisms and communication tools, for promoting the rights of children
- Promotion of more effective implementation of laws and policies pertaining to sexual exploitation, including laws criminalising the phenomenon
- In-depth study of the causative factors of the phenomenon which places children at risk
My Office is instrumental in the promotion of the ratification of the Lanzarote Convention, by proposing measures that need to be taken, to enable Cyprus to proceed with its ratification, e.g. adoption of relevant legislative provisions, policies and programmes, as well as infrastructure which would make its implementation effective. A number of such programmes can be implemented by NGOs within the framework of their existing infrastructures. At the same time, we have developed a series of public-awareness-raising activities in the context of the “One in Five” campaign.
- The organization/ co-organization of, or participation in, seminars and training sessions for professionals on the protection of children’s rights in general and on good practices in respect of the protection of children from sexual abuse (police officers / teachers / social workers)
- Public awareness raising activities among professionals, parents and the general public
- Activities for children empowerment
The Parliament in the exercise of Parliamentary control invites the Government to report before the competent Parliamentary Committee as to the progress achieved and exerts pressure in its respect.
In November 2011 I opened a public consultation on the actions required to be taken for the ratification of the Convention.
Responding to a request from the Government to comment on the first draft of the ratification bill, I pointed out the need for provisions which would facilitate the practical effective implementation of the Convention. I also stressed the need for the establishment of a long- lasting and sustainable collaboration between various stakeholders for developing appropriate structures and mechanisms needed for the effective implementation of the Convention.
With interventions before the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights and Equality and the Parliamentary Committee on Labour and Social Welfare, putting emphasis on its scope, I pointed out that, the Convention is the most advanced and comprehensive legally binding instrument at international level on the protection of children against sexual exploitation and urged for its early ratification and effective implementation by Cyprus.
It is quite clear, I believe, that fighting sexual violence against children is not an easy task; it is rather a complex one, necessitating the convergence of several actors. State authorities should acknowledge and commit to the fact that, combating sexual exploitation of children must be an ongoing effort, requiring constant analysis of progress and follow-up.
Most importantly, governments – following the framework set out by Lanzarote Convention - should focus on developing and implementing multileveled, intersectoral child-centred initiatives, aiming at structural transformation of the way our societies address children and their protection.
Unfortunately, previous experience shows that, often, there is a failure to develop co-ordination between the various stakeholders, due to lack of appropriate instruments and/or bodies that will allow successful communication between different public sector agencies, or collaboration between the public sector and the private sector and/or and the civil society. In order to overcome and/or circumvent this kind of obstacles, States could set up an ad-hoc co-ordinating body with the participation of representatives from the competent governmental agencies and the civil society.
This co-ordinating body should assume the responsibility to develop a National Strategy and a Plan of Action, follow its implementation, and have the overall surveillance of the efforts for the elimination of sexual violence against children, at a local and/or national level. It should have the competence to intervene in the course of action to make any modifications it might deem necessary, on the basis of national data that should have at its disposal.
Despite its heinous character, sexual violence against children continues to be a deeply-rooted reality throughout the globe. Sexual abuse of children is not in the margins, but at the centre of our societies, affecting individuals, families and communities, irrespective of their social, economic or cultural background. At the same time, in most societies, including ours, it remains a taboo issue, compounded by a culture of silence and denial.
The Lanzarote Convention provides an excellent legal basis to fight effectively sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children. It is my firm believe that, for the effective implementation of the Lanzarote Convention, each State Party needs to develop a National Strategy and a Plan of Action, setting goals and objectives, derived from the Convention, and bringing, together different stakeholders. Standing before you today, I would urge, each and every one of you, at the national level, as legislators but also in exercising Parliamentary control in your respective countries, to work towards this direction.
Thank you for your attention