Building a Europe for and with children

Thomas Hammarberg, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights


Thank you, Mr President. I echo your words of appreciation to our Deputy Secretary General, Maud De Boer Buquicchio, who has guided us towards a position of activism on building Europe for and with children, which is most appreciated. I also thank Her Royal Highness for coming here to share her deep knowledge of the issue.

We appreciate her continued co-operation with the Council of Europe. Many thanks to Ann Veneman. We want to co-operate closely with UNICEF and we need its support for our work in this continent. We hope that UNICEF will continue to take a strong and principled position on violence against children, including violence in the home, and especially with regard to corporal punishment.

I also give warm thanks to Professor Pinheiro, who will launch his important report in Europe in a moment. He is an expert for the United Nations. Importantly, his report says that the elimination of violence against children requires strong political leadership and determined advocacy by civil society. The report also says that there should be no more excuses or delays and that the problem is out in the open, that the obligations of governments are clear and that the means to deal with the situation are known, affordable and available.

We have international and European norms for the rights of the child, including that of protection against violence. We know that there are continued violations of those rights, so we should focus on implementation and enforcement. The first necessary step towards preventing violence is to ban legally any violence against children, whether that takes place in school, in an institution, or at home.

We have good news. Greece recently modified its civil laws to join the growing number of Council of Europe states that have fully and legally banned corporal punishment against children. Some 26 countries have either done that, or have formally committed themselves to a complete prohibition. The pace of legal reform is gathering momentum as we approach 2009, the year that has been set for the complete abolition of corporal punishment against children. We are thus coming closer to the goal of making Europe a violence-free zone for children.

Law reform is the first step in the process of transforming society and changing the behaviour of adults. Other means are necessary. The programme “Building a Europe for and with children” was aimed at encouraging discussion and education about non-violent relationships and to promote further awareness of the human rights of children in society. We need to bridge the gap between words and deeds and between agreed norms and reality. I pledge as your commissioner to do my best within my mandate to assist member states to make our continent finally safe for our children.