Excellencies, honoured guests,
It is a great honour for me to open this important conference, where so many have gathered to discuss the theme of ‘Building a Europe for and with Children – Towards a Strategy for 2009–2011’.
Our efforts here are all about making the Convention on the Rights of the Child a reality. The Convention recognises that children have special human rights. These rights are to guarantee that every child enjoys an everyday life that offers opportunities for development, regardless of personal circumstances. No child may be discriminated against – the Convention makes this clear. Society must ensure that this principle becomes a reality.
The Convention places demands on decision-makers, but it also provides us adults with some guidance. It’s not enough to love our own children. We must treat all children – our own and others’ – with care and respect. The rights of every girl and every boy must be realised, without discrimination. Each and every one of them must be able to develop their personality to their fullest potential. And every child must be able to express opinions and be listened to.
All of us – the Council of Europe and the rest of us – can help to realise these rights. We have gathered for this conference from all corners of the continent – among us we have decision-makers, a variety of specialists who work with or for children, and volunteers. We can learn from each other and take inspiration from projects or methods that produce positive results for the benefit of children and their rights. International cooperation and the exchange of experience can make an important difference to children’s lives in many of our countries.
Work for children and children’s rights is an area that is very close to my heart. All children have the right to a safe and secure childhood. Above all, children must be protected from all forms of violence. Far too many children are the victims of domestic violence – in their homes, where they should feel especially safe. Their parents use corporal punishment as a method of child-rearing, or when they are irritated by their children’s behaviour. But the problem is also that children are affected when they are the witnesses of family violence.
Another form of violence against children is child sex abuse and the sexual exploitation of children. In 1996 I was patron of the first World Congress against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, held here in Stockholm. I learnt a great deal about, and became deeply committed to, children who are subjected to this kind of abuse. I wanted to do something to help the most vulnerable children, so almost ten years ago now, I established the World Childhood Foundation to be able to support projects that help vulnerable children. The motto of the Foundation is that “every child has the right to a childhood, to security, joy, playfulness and curiosity about life”.
I am very pleased that two of the projects that the World Childhood Foundation supports were described during yesterday’s seminars, which many of you attended. The seminar on violence against children looked at the project “Assistance to children victims of online sexual abuse and exploitation” implemented by the University Hospital in Linköping. The purpose of the project is to gather knowledge about children who are subjected to online abuse so that, in the long run, the support offered to these children can be improved, and such abuse prevented. And the seminar on child-friendly justice gave an evaluation of how the Icelandic model of Barnahus – multi-disciplinary investigative units caring for the victims of child abuse – has been implemented in Sweden. The idea behind Barnahus is that it should be possible to interview children, investigate their case and provide them with psychological treatment and social support in one and the same place, rather than having children go to several different agencies. Both of these projects are important if we are to make progress in efforts to assist children who are victims of abuse.
With its strong commitment to human rights, the Council of Europe has an extremely important task in working to promote and strengthen efforts to fully implement children’s rights in Europe. This can happen through work to establish standards, combined with concrete cooperation, collaboration and exchange of experience between member states in various working groups and projects.
We are now here in Stockholm to take stock and consolidate the work that has been done so far, and to look ahead. I would like to wish you every success in your vital work during these two days.