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Act Now to end Violence against Children in Europe and Central Asia

© Chris Schuepp, UNICEF CEE/CIS - 2005
UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah delivers a strong message at the Regional Consultation for the UN Study on Violence Against Children in Europe & Central Asia - Act Now!

Friends, I'm delighted to have this opportunity to speak on behalf of the three UN agencies taking part in this Consultation – the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the World Health Organisation and, my own organisation, UNICEF.

As you may know, the dreadful weather earlier in the week delayed my arrival. But I was determined to be here -- the fourth Regional Consultation that I have attended. Each one brings fresh insights, renewed commitments and shines a welcome spotlight on the hidden disgrace, the hidden outrage, of violence against children.

This Consultation has demonstrated that children are as vulnerable to violence in Europe and Central Asia as in any other part of the world – in their homes, in their schools, in their communities and, in a setting that is of particular relevance to this region – in residential institutions.

While this Consultation will feed into the UN Global Study on Violence against Children, it is clear that we can not wait another year – or even one more day – before acting.

The Consultation has reinforced the need for zero tolerance on violence. It has stressed the need for a total ban on corporal punishment – no exceptions.

It has called on us not only to prevent violence against children in residential institutions, but to prevent the institutionalisation of children in the first place.

It has reminded us that Europe is in a privileged position to act now. If any region can take a lead on this issue, it is Europe and Central Asia. This is a region that already has a strong normative framework in place. It has solid legislation. It has proven commitment. And, through the Council of Europe, it has a forum for common action. 

But the Consultation has also reminded us that, while laws and policies are the essential first step, we must go further (**insert mention of the need for commitments and mechanisms**). As well as changing laws, we must change the attitudes that allow children to be beaten, to be scarred, to be killed. The attitudes that see children as mere extensions of their parents, rather than as human beings with their own rights. The misplaced fear that child rights undermine parental authority, as if the two were contradictory. The complacency that says »it's none of my business«

Violence against children should be – must be – everyone's responsibility and everyone's business.

If we are to consign violence to the history books, we need new attitudes to child rearing, to parenting, to childhood itself – attitudes that are based firmly on the protection and fulfilment of all rights for all children – the right to survive, to develop, the right to good health, to be educated and protected.

We need the genuine involvement of young people. At yesterday's wonderful Act Now Session, a delegate asked one of the young people whether she was comfortable with the idea of going back to her country to tackle her national leaders on this issue. »Of course we are comfortable,« she replied »but will you listen?«

It is our task to actively reach out to young people, to actively seek their opinions and views. After all, who is better informed than they? Whose opinion can be more valid? Whose experience more relevant?

Ladies and gentleman, make no mistake. If we do not act now on violence against children we jeopardise our human future. We undermine our chances of reaching the Millennium Development Goals. For the costs of the violence, not only to children, but to entire societies can not be over-estimated. The health and pyschological costs alone are breathtaking. As one of the young participants said yesterday, »bruises disappear in a week, but bruises in your heart stay forever.«

True and lasting development requires true and lasting peace – not only across countries, but within communities and within families, raising happy, healthy children.

I must commend the strong partnership that has not only made this Consultation possible, but will also be the key to its long-term impact. And what a partnership it is! A perfect model.

First, the Government of Slovenia. My deepest thanks to the Government for making this possible, for mobilising your fellow governments (and for inviting us all to this beautiful city – a perfect haven for intense reflection and open debate).

May I also thank the Council of Europe – their work on human rights standards across Europe is an example for the rest of the world. It has been a delight to work in such close partnership with our sister UN agencies -- the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the World Health Organisation. UNICEF stands ready to continue this collaboration and is already building this issue into its programming for children.  It has been a joy to work with NGOs on this Consultation through the dedication of the NGO Advisory Panel to the Global Study. And may I take this opportunity to thank Professor Paulo Pinheiro for his robust leadership on the UN Global Study on violence against children.
 
But let me end by congratulating, once again, the young people who transformed this Consultation, with their dynamic vision of a world without violence, with their questions (sometimes tough questions) – and, above all, their passion.  I invite them to act as our watchdogs – holding all of us to account on this issue. Let us match their passion with a collective and individual commitment to ACT NOW.

Thank you.

For more information:

Angela Hawke, Communication Officer: (+4122) 909 5433, e-mail: ahawke@unicef.org

 

 
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