Thank you Dr M’Jid,
Your Excellencies, esteemed speakers, ladies and gentlemen.
All of us present here today know that violence is preventable. It is our collective responsibility to act, to not only reduce violence against children, but to prevent it happening at all, anywhere, to any child.
Therefore, through the EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child, we have focussed on combating violence against children by stepping up child protection and strengthening child-friendly justice.
To be effective, our response to violence must be integrated and comprehensive. Parents, caregivers, teachers, paediatricians and society at large need to be well-equipped to keep children safe.
We need to address taboos: it is still socially “uncomfortable” to speak about certain forms of violence against children, such as child sexual abuse, both off and online or domestic violence.
The EU Strategy on the rights of the child proposes concrete European Union and global initiatives: from financial programmes, to legislative and policy actions.
It is an honour for me to address you on the occasion of the 76th United Nations General Assembly.
While in some respects, the lives of children around the world have improved with development and increased prosperity, it is a blight on our societies that children continue to be the victims of so many different forms of violence. It is therefore vital that we work together to find solutions.
Half of all children worldwide, from babies to teenagers, are victims of violence each year.
Almost two years since the outbreak of COVID-19, we are learning more about the serious impact of the pandemic on our youngest. During lockdowns, violence against children has risen exponentially. We must acknowledge this shocking reality.
With the EU Comprehensive Strategy on the Rights of the Child, adopted earlier this year, the European Union renewed its commitment to strengthen the protection and realisation of children’s rights across the globe.
Our strategy has benefitted from the contributions of over TEN THOUSAND children, from both inside and outside the European Union. Many children told us about the violence they are experiencing. A violence that has many faces. We have seen evidence of physical and, psychological violence. Of violence related to socio-economic exclusion and poverty.
We have seen how the school and day-care closures often meant taking away the basic right to an education or, in some cases, the only opportunity for a nutritious meal. Far too often, these closures also meant taking away children’s only safe haven, their only refuge from violence.
Among those, the European Commission will present an initiative on integrated child protection systems.
Later this year, the European Union will propose significant legislation on effectively combatting online sexual exploitation and abuse, as well as on gender-based and domestic violence.
Globally, the European Union will continue financing programmes on child protection.
The European Union Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy has also underlined that the EU will help prevent, combat and respond to all forms of violence against children.
Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
Children have the right to be listened to and therefore judicial proceedings should be adapted to their age and needs. They also need the adequate support to reintegrate into society after being involved in crime.
“Child friendly justice is a system where a child is protected and feels safe.” Here I am quoting a girl who participated in the consultations with children for our child rights strategy.
Child-friendly justice also means that police, prosecutors and judges put children’s needs first and that children receive the mental health support they are entitled to.
This is a very important pillar of our strategy: to protect and support children – whether they are perpetrators or victims of violence.
The EU has been and will continue to support the Scandinavian model of Barnahus, or children’s houses, to support child victims of sexual abuse in a coordinated and cooperative manner and help them overcome trauma.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to severe consequences for children in many different ways. Some children have been more exposed to online violence and domestic abuse. Access to effective emergency care and psychosocial support is therefore crucial.
These services and helplines need to be free of charge and available 24/7 for children who seek support. Data from helplines indicates that violence is one of the main reasons why children reach out.
Our commitment to protect and fulfil children’s rights is universal: through our development and cooperation policies, as well as our humanitarian work, we help improve the protection of children and their rights across the world.
We are dedicated to implementing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in all our policies.
In particular, the EU Strategy on the rights of the child will contribute to achieving many of the Sustainable Development Goals. These include target 16.2., which calls for ending violence against children.
We work on equal access to education, healthcare and justice. This year we also adopted a European Child Guarantee to help lift children out of poverty and benefit from an equal start in life.
Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
Ending violence against children is a global challenge requiring a global response. We need the strong support from all UN Member States to disseminate and further implement measures to combat violence against children.
To be effective, we need cooperation at all levels, from local authorities, to regional, national and global actors. The EU remains a strong partner in the fight against this global challenge.
I will conclude on a topic very dear to me: child empowerment and participation. Children themselves need to be more aware of their rights, and of what constitutes violence.
Children can be powerful voices against violence: speak out about their issues, their lives, be empowered to become human rights activists and help combat violence.
I am thinking of The Purple Chair, an initiative created by young people to educate peers about female genital mutilation. We need to support these networks, which amplify the voices of young activists: to speak about violence, raise awareness, and contribute to changing mentalities.
Therefore, we are developing an EU Child participation platform to better include children in our policy-making. We are also doing this by involving children in the on-going Conference on the future of Europe.
The impressive artwork, which is currently displayed on the lawn of the United Nations Headquarters, sends us an important message: it is children who can sustainably rebuild our world.
Let us ensure that we do everything in our collective power to lift them up and enable them to thrive, in a violence-free life.
I thank you very much.