Good morning excellencies,
ladies and gentlemen.
It is my great pleasure to address you today at the United Nations on a very special occasion: the preview of the first of its kind tool to assess how governments, civil society and the private sector are addressing the hidden epidemic of child sexual abuse and exploitation.
It is my hope that the new index, developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit with support of the World Childhood Foundation and the Oak Foundation, will become a widely used tool to accelerate progress in achieving Sustainable Development Goal 16.2. This aspirational goal is to end all forms of violence against children, including child sexual abuse and exploitation, by 2030.
Sustainable Development Goal 16 calls for Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. But how can we hope for Peace and Justice when over 1 billion children are exposed to violence every year? And about 200 million of those children have experienced sexual violence.
Years ago, Mahatma Gandhi referenced the importance of protecting and investing in children for sustainable peace. The new global goals, adopted by all nations in 2015, provide a great framework for giving every child the chance of a happy and healthy childhood, the crucial foundation for a fulfilling life.
Almost 20 years ago, in 1999, I founded the World Childhood Foundation. I wanted to use my voice and position to raise awareness about the suffering of vulnerable children. In addition, I wanted to help prevent child abuse and provide support to children who experienced abuse and exploitation. And most of all I wanted to help abused children heal: to give them back their childhood.
Today, my daughter and best partner, HRH Princess Madeleine, is following in my footsteps by developing new approaches such as launching advocacy campaigns using social media, first, to raise awareness about the universal challenge of child sexual abuse, and, second, to advocate for the scaling up of prevention. I am proud of her for being a wonderful mother and daughter, but also a committed advocate for children’s rights.
It has been a very busy but inspiring week for me. Last Thursday, together with Childhood Germany, I inaugurated the first Barnahus (Childhood House) in Germany, in Leipzig. Barnahus or Child Advocacy Centers – as they are called in the US – are places where children who are victims of abuse, neglect or violence receive psychological, medical and social services helping to uncover often horrific stories of abuse, disclose potential abuse, stop the perpetrator, and start the healing process. Instead of giving numerous testimonials at a police station, in a pediatrician’s office, or during a meeting with social workers, at a Barnahus, the child is interviewed only once by a trained professional, in a safe environment, where all experts work as one team, minimizing the risk of any additional psychological trauma.
Childhood helped to start the Barnahus model in Sweden, and I am so pleased to see this model now being implemented in Germany, Poland and Brazil. Childhood USA has been supporting a number of Child Advocacy Centers since 1999, and I had the opportunity to visit several of them as the child friendly and trauma-informed response is one of our priority areas at Childhood.
Another important area where the Childhood Foundation was a pioneer is in utilizing what we call ICT – information and communications technology – to fight child abuse. The first program that we provided seed funding for was NetClean, a service that enables the tracking of child sexual abuse material on line, identifies and helps stop the abusers and identifies and then rescues victims. You will hear more about it from the NetClean CEO later.
In 2016, Childhood USA partnered with Ericsson and Darkness2Light to launch the first mobile App on prevention of child sexual abuse and exploitation. In fact, we used Princess Madeleine’s #EyesWideOpen platform. The app equips adults with the skills needed to prevent or report potential child sexual abuse.
Last week, the Childhood USA President and CEO, Joanna Rubinstein, was appointed to the ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development and will co-chair a new working group on child safety online. This is a great opportunity to finally engage the regulators and operators in developing new and effective policies as well as technology-driven solutions to keep children safe online.
Now that the new global goals directly address the universal challenges of child sexual abuse and exploitation, Childhood can engage new partners. As you can see from my previous point, the private sector is stepping up to the challenge by embarking on new measures to help ensure that their business is not putting more children at risk. Another excellent example involves the travel and tourism industry. It can either continue to be an enabler for trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children or it can be a force for good. This is why we work closely with the Carlson Companies – major players in the travel industry – to raise awareness about the unacceptable behavior of some travel professionals and, sadly, travellers themselves. Indeed, Childhood Brazil has been engaged in these efforts for more than a decade.
Returning to my opening point, today, once again, Childhood demonstrates its innovative leadership by pioneering in the development of a ground-breaking benchmarking index on child sexual abuse and exploitation. I hope that the Index will become a useful tool for advocacy to end child sexual abuse by 2030.
Next year marks the 20th anniversary of Childhood and the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Right of the Child. It will also be when governments at the UN High Level Political Forum will be reporting on their progress toward reaching the Goal 16. I sincerely hope that each government will remember to report on SDG target 16.2.
Despite the work of Childhood and many other great organizations, UN agencies and governments, child sexual abuse remains a hidden public health epidemic leading to dire consequences including mental health problems, learning disabilities, increased risk of substance abuse and the perpetuation of violence. It is time to get it out of the shadows, and I sincerely hope that the Economist Intelligence Unit Index will help us in this process.
I am a mother of three and a grandmother of seven. I believe that the right of children to a childhood free from violence, abuse and exploitation is our collective responsibility. It gives me hope to see how many of you are working on solutions. I look forward to hearing and learning from you.
Your excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies & gentlemen, colleagues and friends. Thank you all for your commitment to every child’s right to a safe childhood.