Ladies and Gentlemen,
The right to participate in decisions that affect one’s life is a fundamental human right enshrined in international and European legal instruments, including the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The 2012 Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers on the participation of children and young people under the age of 18 aims to realise this right by providing a policy framework for protecting children and young people’s right to participate, promoting and informing children and young people about participation, and creating spaces for participation.
Through the “One in Five” campaign, the Council of Europe has continuously promoted a “culture of child participation”, in which children are recognised as holders of full rights and as citizens with the right to participate in a democratic society. Children have the right to be heard and be involved in decision-making, at home, in the life of the community, at school or in individual legal and administrative matters that concern them.
Of course, children need support from their parents and other adults, depending on their age and degree of maturity. Still, there are many things that children can decide and accomplish by themselves. The aim of participation is to make children visible in social life and policy, as well as to promote education for democratic citizenship by giving children opportunities to learn democratic rules and procedures practically, and to be treated and respected as equal citizens.
The importance of participation as a means of preventing sexual exploitation is recognised in the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse - the Lanzarote Convention – which states that:
“Each Party shall encourage the participation of children, according to their evolving capacity, in the development and the implementation of state policies, programmes or others initiatives concerning the fight against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children.”
Earlier this year, the States Parties to the Lanzarote Convention were asked to provide information on the implementation of the Convention in their country. Their replies provide a well of information and have been published on the website of the Lanzarote Committee, which is the mechanism set up to monitor the implementation of the Convention.
The Council of Europe is currently also working on a child-friendly version of the Lanzarote Convention as an important means to help children participate in the fight against sexual violence.
The recent Council of Europe Mid-term Strategy Conference “Growing with Children’s Rights” in Dubrovnik, on 27-28 March 2014, addressed a large number of child protection issues.
The thematic discussions dealt with ways to identify and improve our instruments to fight sexual violence against children, from the perspectives of preventing sexual violence against children, protecting children from potential risks, and offering the most adequate support to children as victims.
This concerned, for instance, the effective access to child-friendly services and systems, such as justice, social services and healthcare; the establishment of non-custodial measures for children; and the protection of children at risk.
The conference participants were mindful of the fact that children are not only victims of violence; they are also part of the solution. When children are allowed to express their views, they know very well how to find good solutions and are able to influence decisions in a way that is positive for them, both in terms of process and in terms of outcome.
As an example, a young participant at the Conference, member of ECPAT International’s Child Youth Advisory Committee, spoke about the success of peer-to-peer approaches to support children who are victim of sexual exploitation. Children, including children who have themselves been victims of such crimes, are trained to develop skills to support and assist other children, and are encouraged to take the lead in shaping their own future.
During the Mid-Term Strategy Conference in Dubrovnik representatives of our member States, other international organisations and NGOs expressed their support to seek additional ratifications to the “Lanzarote Convention”. It was agreed among participants — and explicitly supported by the Secretary General — that it is crucial to maintain visibility of sexual violence against children, continue to fight taboos and engage all actors in order to offer more protection for all children.
I am grateful for your extraordinary work to fight sexual violence against children and for your commitment to the “One in Five” Campaign. You have contributed to legal reforms and the establishment of concrete measures in 31 countries following their ratification of the Lanzarote Convention.
I very much welcome the Recommendation of the Parliamentary Assembly on “Combating sexual violence against children: towards a successful conclusion of the One in Five Campaign”, which was adopted in May and calls for the extension of the Campaign until the end of 2015 and the subsequent establishment of a “European Day to Fight Sexual Violence against Children”.
Last week, the Committee of Ministers’ Rapporteur Group on Social and Health Questions welcomed the extension of the Campaign until the end of 2015. The Rapporteur Group also asked the Secretariat to explore the feasibility of organising a European annual or biannual one-day initiative to raise awareness of sexual violence against children.
This is a good illustration of how the two main bodies of the Council of Europe can work together efficiently on issues of common concern.
I wish to congratulate you for having devoted this meeting to this important issue, and I encourage you to continue using the UN and Council of Europe standards as a reference in your work as parliamentarians.