Back 11th meeting of the Network of Contact Parliamentarians to stop sexual violence against children

Strasbourg , 

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The Lanzarote Convention is the world's most far-reaching instrument to protect children against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. I commend your Network's efforts to promote this convention and its standards, and I am glad to have the opportunity to attend this meeting and to provide an update on the Council of Europe's ONE in FIVE Campaign.

It is with great interest that I am taking part in your exchange of views on the sexual abuse of children with mental disabilities.

All children are vulnerable, but disabled children are even more at risk than other children. Stigma, discrimination, ignorance about disabilities, isolation and inadequate services and support greatly increase their vulnerability. I was appalled to learn that according to the WHO the risk of sexual violence against children with mental impairments is almost five times higher than other children.

All too often children with disabilities are neglected and forgotten. Many become invisible because they are confined in residential institutions or hidden by families who feel ashamed by their child's disability. The violations of their rights are even more invisible.

The governments of Europe have a clear obligation to protect children from violence and to support their families. The European Court of Human Rights and the European Committee of Social Rights have on several occasions reminded us that these obligations have a special meaning when it comes to children with disabilities. Governments must take legal, political and administrative measures to fight their particular exposure to all forms of abuse.

As Parliamentarians, you are in a key position to give a voice to those invisible children, to enable their parents to better deal with the consequences of their child's disability and to support professionals in their call for more resources. You are in a position to shape the normative framework and to remind governments of their obligations.

36 of our member States and the European Union are already parties to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. I hope that this UN convention will soon bind our whole continent and that all children with disabilities in Europe will feel the positive impact of this legal protection.

On our continent, the Lanzarote Convention is particularly relevant to protect disabled children from sexual violence. The Convention obviously applies to all children and requires governments to take "the necessary legislative and other measures" to prevent abuse and protect the victims. "Necessary" means responding to the particular needs of disabled children. The Convention also requires States to take into account the special vulnerability of the victim when defining the aggravating circumstances of a crime.

I am confident that the Lanzarote Committee of the Parties which supervises the implementation of this convention will make the best possible use of its provisions, so that it also fully benefits children with disabilities. I know that I can count on you all to support this process.

The Council of Europe Guidelines on Child-friendly Justice from 2010 also underline how important it is to protect and assist vulnerable children, including children with disabilities. These Guidelines inspire changes to the justice systems all over Europe and beyond. The Guidelines now exist in more than 20 languages and provide a very useful tool in the parliamentarians' quest to stop sexual violence against children and to adapt legal systems to the specific needs of children. I therefore encourage your network to push for their dissemination and widespread use at national level.

Let me end my address with a brief update on the Lanzarote Convention and the Council of Europe's ONE in FIVE Campaign to stop sexual violence against children.

The Convention is now binding to 24 States, and I am confident that this number will continue to grow in 2013. I am particularly happy to report that the Moroccan government approved last December a law for the ratification of the Lanzarote Convention and that this should be followed soon by the official signature, making Morocco the first non-European country to join the Convention.

The ONE in FIVE Campaign, which has enjoyed your strong support, continues to have unprecedented success in our member states and further afield. Campaigns are now running in 17 member states and in Mexico, and will soon be launched in eight more countries.

Thank you.