EU Forum on Children’s Rights Child Protection Systems Lena Karlsson’s Speech 12 December 2015 “I hate being a child, I hate being hit and I hate being taken for granted. I have feelings and emotions. “I hate being a child, I hate being hit and I hate being taken for granted. I have feelings and emotions, I need love, care, protection and attention.” Girl, 13 year old have feelings and emotions. I need love, care, protection and attention. Dear Commissioner, many thanks for inviting me. Ladies and gentlemen. Every child has the human right to live and thrive in a safe and caring family environment, free from all forms of violence. Nevertheless, for millions of children, abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence takes place on a daily basis – at home, at school, in institutions, at work and in the community. It includes sexual violence and abuse, child trafficking, corporal punishment, bullying, children being separated from their parents and left behind by migrating parents. Children all over the world tell us about their painful experiences, how it affects their lives and how they would like to participate and be partners with adults to stop it. Violence affects children´s rights to survival, development and participation as well as the development of nations. The root causes of violence against children cut across countries, cultures, traditions and levels of income. The European Union is not an exception. Only in 17 out of the 28 Member States are children legally protected from corporal punishment in all settings including the home. One child in five in Europe is thought to be a victim of sexual violence. In 70 to 85 per cent of cases, children know their aggressors. In 90 per cent of cases, sexual offences are not reported to the authorities. Approximately 1 million children are estimated to be living in alternative care in the European Union and studies confirm the overrepresentation of Roma children in institutions. In many countries, institutional care continues to be a first line response to the situation of orphaned, abandoned, separated children and child victims of domestic violence even though commitments and obligations to de-institutionalization already exist. Violence against children in EU Member States is likely to be increasing due to the economic and financial crisis which results in budget cuts in preventive and protection services for children and their families. Children migrating to and within the EU - and especially those who move alone – are often vulnerable and at risk of trafficking, abuse and exploitation. Violence against children is
also increasingly being facilitated through new technologies, while those can also be used to promote information about safety measures. The EU has taken many important steps to enhance children´s right to be protected from all forms of violence. Protection and promotion of the rights of the child is one of the objectives of the European Union - and the Lisbon Treaty specifically mentions the protection of children against sexual exploitation and trafficking. The EU Strategy Towards the Eradication of Trafficking in Human Beings 2012-2016 states that to better protect children the Commission will in 2014 fund guidance on child protection systems. This is a very welcomed development. National and community-based child protection systems should be promoted to provide a comprehensive, sustainable and coordinated solution to protect all children. An effective system consists of a set of laws and policies which comply with the UN CRC, a central Government coordination mechanism with a clear mandate to prevent and respond to child protection concerns, adequately funded child protection services, regulations and monitoring at all levels, a committed work force with competence and mandate, data collection and awareness-raising. A child protection system considers all root causes when protecting children, it includes all children without discrimination, it is based on long-term interventions and it is built on the coordination between different sectors and actors – including civil society. I will now give a few examples of promising practices within Europe which will highlight some of the components of a child protection system. Prevention of violence, by addressing the social acceptance of violence, through awareness raising and legal reform combined with support to families is a key component of a protection system. Sweden was the first country in the world to adopt a legal ban against corporal punishment in all settings including the home in 1979, and has been successful in reducing this practice. In the 1960 most preschool children had been smacked by their parents once or several times per year and one third were smacked regularly. After 2000, data provided by parents suggests it is now down to just a few per cent. Not only has the number of children who are smacked fallen, but those who are still smacked experience this less often and only rarely with implements (1-1.5 per cent). It was important to create a culture where violence was not tolerated and accepted. This was done through a combination of legal reform, awareness raising, debates and social mobilization, support to families – including on parenting skills and capacity building of professionals working with children. For example, a Ministry of Justice brochure ” Can you bring up children successfully without smacking or spanking” was distributed to all households with children in order to introduce the law and the reasons for it. The brochure
also referred to family support services that provide advice and assistance to families and children who find it helpful to talk to someone outside the family. Informing children about their rights through debates and child friendly information in schools was also crucial as well as educating the most important professional groups such as teachers, social workers and the police, about children at risk. It was combined with social welfare reform, including generous parental leave for both fathers and mothers and the development of a comprehensive child protection system – specifically targeting children and families at risk. It is important to note that the purpose of forbidding all corporal punishment was not to criminalize parents but to give children equal protection as adults. Milder forms of punishment are not punished and more severe forms are punished according to the Penal Code. An Obligation to Report alleged child abuse among professionals and authorities to the Social Services accompanied the Law. In practical this means that it is a nurse or a teacher’s duty to report in any case where he or she is suspicious of child abuse. The law gives a clear message that hitting children is wrong! A boy told us “If it is against the law, they are going to think twice before hitting a child.” Effective response when a child has been abused is another key component of an effective child protection system. The Scandinavian countries Iceland, Sweden and Norway have introduced “Children’s Houses” as a child- friendly, interdisciplinary and multiagency centre where different professionals work under one roof to respond to child abuse – in the best interest of the child. The basic concept is to prevent subjecting the child to repeated interviews by many agencies in different locations. Research has shown that when this happens it can be very traumatic for the child and may result in victimization, or the amplification of harmful consequences that can be more severe than the abuse itself. Sexual abuse is a very sensitive issue that implies a physical and emotional violation of the child’s integrity. Perpetrators often use time to manipulate the child into an intimate relationship and the child may feel like an accomplice or simply not have the understanding that sexual acts are not supposed to be part of play. Traumatised children will have difficulties talking about the abuse, and feelings of guilt and shame may further cause them to displace the pain and the memories of the abuse. A girl in the 11th grade in Romania told us: «It could appear a feeling of guilt. The victim and even people around who don’t know the situation could consider that the abused child is responsible for the abuse. If close people consider this, slowly, the
victim will believe the same thing,» In a “Children’s House” in Iceland, a child who has been sexually abused is interviewed in one room by a trained investigative interviewer. The interviewer covers all aspects and is observed in another room by a judge, who is formally in charge of the procedure, a social worker from the child protection authorities, the police, the prosecution, the defense attorneys and the child´s advocate. The interview is videotaped and can be used in court at the main proceedings. This arrangement makes it possible in most cases to only conduct one interview with the child. The Children´s House also provides treatment services for the child and their families. A diagnosis is made of the child for therapeutic purposes and an individual treatment plan is created. For a child protection system to be effective participation and partnerships with UN agencies, NGOs and civil society, including children themselves is crucial. An effective national child protection system should also be linked with protection systems in other countries through transnational mechanism. Transnational cooperation measures are necessary to ensure the protection of children on the move and to guarantee their rights independently of their immigration status. “Children and families migrate to find a better life, to have a normal life” – is what many children have told Save the Children. Migration is often a journey where their rights as children are ignored or violated, while travelling and at destination, and many children are also sent back to their country of origin, without a proper assessment of their best interests. Between January and 31st October 2013, a total of 38882 migrants have landed at the Italian Southern Borders, including 31222 adults and 7660 children, of whom 4755 children are unaccompanied. Main Countries of origin are Syria, Eritrea and Somalia. The Praesidium Project titled “Strengthening of reception capacity in respect of migration flows reaching the island of Lampedusa” was launched in 2006 by the Italian Ministry of Interior, in partnership with the Italian Red Cross (CRI), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). As of February 2008, the project was extended to Save the Children Italy, due to the increase in flows of unaccompanied migrant children. The project provided legal information and councelling to migrants upon arrival and monitored the compliance of the services with internatinal standards. Special attention was given to children and victims of trafficking. Recidential care facilities were provided for unaccopanied and separated children and efforts were made to reunify separated children with their families.
Multi-agency cooperation proved to be a successful practice in terms of developing joint procedures and improving the protection of children on the move. It gave the opportunity to use different mandates, capacities and experiences to better identify and respond to the protection needs of children involved in migration, recognizing that migration is a complex phenomenon and that in their journey or over time, children on the move may have different protection needs and their status may vary. Many of the children met in the Praesidium project were for example, at the same time, victims of trafficking, asylum seekers, and victims of violence or trauma. Save the Children Italy is consulting with children to better understand their reality and building their program based on their needs. They are also providing information to migrating children in order to make their journey safer. Finally I would like to give some starting points and key recommendation to the EU for the development of guidelines on child protection systems. 1) The EU needs to agree on a definition of child protection systems, its aims and key components. 2) It is important to recognize that all EU Member States have components of the system in place. Any attempt to strengthen a national system should build on a mapping and assessment of existing components at national and sub- national level – different methodologies already exist and should be used and adapted to the EU context. 3) Any child protection system should be based on children’s rights as enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child – which all EU Member States are parties to – and translate into national legislation – with provisions to ensure equal protection of children by law. 4) The EU should also build a strong trans-national component in guiding Member States to set up child protection system – these systems should have internal coherence and be able to prevent and respond to violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect of children in a coherent way – especially when children move across EU countries, being nationals or non-nationals. It should also address abuse and exploitation through new technologies (for example grooming, and child abusive images) and sexual exploitation through travel and tourism. 5) Social protection and family strengthening policies – covering both fathers and mothers, female and male caregivers- should be at the heart of any child protection system and formulated with the best interest of the child as the building block – protection from violence starts where children live, grow and develop. Care reform is an integral aspect of system reform, diverting resources from institutional to family based care. 6) Girls and boys from various backgrounds should be involved in the development of any components of child protection systems – they should finally be recognized as capable agents of change, and conditions
should be created in order to facilitate their consultations and participation. Any system should be inclusive and address root causes such as discrimination and the social acceptance of violence. 7) Civil society organizations are key actors in child protection, very often at the fore front of providing services and outreach to children. They should continue to be involved in the setting up of systems at local and national level. 8) The system should be built around cross departmental collaboration. Child protection is a sector as well as intersectoral thus requiring integration with other sectors, such as education, health and justice. 9) No system functions without resources. The Member States should regularly report on investments made in child protection systems and the EU should produce regular monitoring reports. 10) No system functions without data. The EU should give guidance to Member States on common data and indicators – aligned with international ones – and States should develop a national data collection and research agenda to inform policies and report on advancements and outcome for children. It is important to systematically gain insight into which interventions have been successful and why, and understand what have been the factors driving change in countries that have succeeded in introducing new norms, standards and practices. Good practices should be documented and shared. In our consultations with children on how to stop violence they all emphasize the urgency and the importance to take action now! I would therefore like to end my speech with a quote from a child who was involved in the consultation for the UN Study on Violence against Children. “The protection of children involves major financial resources but the life and well-being of millions of children depend on the willingness of governments to put in place the necessary measures. In our view, violence committed against a single child is one instance of violence too many”