Opening the event, Ambassador Aviva Raz Shechter of Israel, asserted that "child sexual abuse is a gross violation of children’s rights." According to the World Health Organisation, 12% of children in the world were sexually abused in the past year, amounting to about 260 million victims; recently, the online sphere has additionally driven sexual violence of children. "We need to redouble efforts to eradicate sexual abuse of children […] and prevention plays a key role that has often been overlooked" Ambassador Raz Shechter underlined. Today's discussion at the UN is a way of showing how relevant and important international cooperation is in this area, she said. She shared the experience of Israeli national policies on this matter, providing the example of the “The National Child Online Protection Bureau (NCOPB) amongst others.
Ambassador Walter Stevens, Head of the EU Delegation to the UN in Geneva, added that the EU likewise undertakes efforts to combat child sexual abuse, exemplified with the recent EU Council conclusions of common EU action on combating sexual abuse of children in the broader context of gender-based violence and exploitation in emergency situations. "We must spare no effort to protect our children, to educate them to stay safe. We have the tools, the treaties, the guidelines and the will, but we are far from there yet."
Indeed, the international community has adopted various instruments to protect children from sexual violence, such as the CRC. However, while prevention is often mentioned as a tool, it is rarely the focus of government efforts, as the panellists subsequently highlighted.
Dr. Elizabeth Letourneau Professor, Professor, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, stressed thatmost resources focus on efforts to punish perpetrators, as opposed to prioritising prevention in the first place. In this respect, it is often overlooked that it is children who account for a large portion of child sexual abuse offenders, often because they are unaware of appropriate age boundaries, the concept of consent, or the fact that online sexual images of other children are illegal. She called on States to change the existing paradigm, which is based on dangerous beliefs that sexual abuse is mainly an adult, criminal issue, and instead embrace a human centered paradigm in which sexual abuse is viewed as a preventable societal problem. She highlighted the successful results of a variety of Child Safety Program taught in schools.
Mr. Philip D. Jaffé, Member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, recalled the additional challenge posed by modern technologies and the respective lack of regulatory protective measures to the online industry. He also reminded that more attention should be paid to vulnerable groups of children, such as children with disabilities, migrant, economically disadvantaged children and children from single parent household. He stressed that giving children a voice as agents of prevention would go hand in hand with their own protection.
Finally, Ms. Anya Gass, Girls Advocacy Officer from Plan International, focused specifically on the situation of girls, who are "particularly vulnerable for being both, children and women." She highlighted how social norms fuel gender-based violence, without neglecting the adverse effects on boys, who are often raised to represent a certain type of masculinity. She advised to dedicate preventative and educational actions throughout each stage of life, from early childhood, to adolescence and adulthood.
In the subsequent discussion, many State representatives and international organisations thanked the organisers for putting the topic high on the international agenda andreaffirmed their commitment to the prevention of child sexual abuse and the promotion of children’s rights and their well-being. Uruguay, co-organiser of the event, particularlyencouraged the international community to shift the existing paradigm to an understanding of sexual abuse as a preventable health problem in line with the panellists andto prioritize prevention – in this view, they especially highlighted the need to invest in Comprehensive Sexual Education with view to its potential as a prevention tool.
In closing, Ms. Ronit Raphael, Founder and President of "Tom’s Secret - The Global Army Against Child Abuse", presented an educational video on how to approach children who fell victim to sexual abuse as one specific educational tool to build awareness and tackle the problem. She has called on States, International Organizations and individuals to take on this fight and invest in preventive measures. Her daughter read a brave statement on how the issue is viewed by children from a children's eyes perspective.