Current Affairs Committee of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities

7th Annual Conference of the European Network “Cities for Children”

13 May 2013, Stuttgart (Germany)

Speech by Clemens Lammerskitten on behalf of Herwig van Staa, President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe

Mayor Kuhn

Ladies and Gentlemen

On behalf of Herwig VAN STAA, President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, I should like to thank you for your invitation to address this Annual Conference of the Cities for Children Network.  As you know, the Congress is a patron of your Network, having helped to launch it in 2007, and we are pleased to continue to support your work as we, the Council of Europe and the Cities for Children Network, share one major aim: the defence of human rights, and that includes children’s rights.

For over 60 years now, the Council of Europe has strived to make our continent a space where human rights, democracy and the rule of law reign.  A large number of measures, from conventions to recommendations, have been adopted to provide for the needs of every single citizen of Europe, measures that enable them to live their lives free from harm, from discrimination, from unlawful practices.  Because children are vulnerable and dependent, the Council of Europe has invested in the development of specific standards, policies and practices that should protect them, keep them safe from violence, give them the possibility to take part in decisions on issues that affect them and guarantee respect for their rights.

For this year’s award, you chose the subject “healthy nutrition and physical activity for children and adolescents in the city”.  Nutrition is very important for everyone, but it is especially important for children because it is directly linked to all aspects of their growth and development. For example, children enjoying a nutritionally balanced diet will have a more solid foundation for their brain activity and capabilities later on, and their risks of serious disease, such as heart disease, are reduced.  Partaking in activities leads to greater enjoyment and well-being, whereas overweight children may be teased and ostracised which can have devastating effects on self-confidence, placing children at risk for depression.

Children’s well-being is at the heart of the Council of Europe’s programme to build a Europe for and with children which seeks to ensure the respect for children’s rights across  our continent.  Our “Strategy for the rights of the child” focuses on four main objectives:

•           promoting child-friendly services and systems;

•           eliminating all forms of violence against children;

•           guaranteeing the rights of children in vulnerable situations; and

•           promoting child participation.

Last year, during your conference, you learned about the Council’s ONE in FIVE Campaign to stop sexual violence against children.  It was decided to give the Campaign this title because it is estimated that one child in every five is victim of some form of sexual  abuse, one of the worst forms of violence against children.  These acts of violence can and do cause serious damage to children’s mental and physical health.  The consequences of sexual abuse follow children into their adult lives – lives which first person accounts often describe as lived out in hidden sorrow and pain.

The Congress is committed to the ONE in FIVE campaign and is working hard to raise awareness of local and regional authorities of the role they can play in combatting child sexual exploitation and abuse.  In particular, we have just launched a Pact of Towns and Regions to Stop Sexual Violence against Children.  Our Pact contains examples of policies, activities, initiatives and structures which we feel local and regional authorities can usefully implement to achieve the aims of the campaign.  It follows the four-pronged approach of Prevention, Protection, Prosecution and Participation: to prevent abuse, protect victims, prosecute perpetrators and ensure the full participation of children in the entire process.  Thanks to this approach, local and regional authorities can decide how best to run public sector agencies to ensure that children and young people are protected and supported, whilst actively pursuing the prosecution of perpetrators.  We are, of course, aware that in these times of economic and financial crisis, money is tight, cuts are being made, transfers to local and regional councils are being reduced.  This is why the Pact also proposes a number of simple initiatives that require very little if any public spending – for example simply putting a link on towns’ homepages to the Council of Europe ONE in FIVE website.  The ultimate aim is, of course, to encourage local and regional authorities to adopt specific strategies and set up dedicated structures, such as children’s houses or multidisciplinary centres, which will obviously necessitate substantial investment.

You can see that political will is an extremely important factor, particularly if major policy changes are to be made and dedicated structures created.  The Congress will do its utmost to persuade local and regional councillors and parliamentarians that, whatever the cost involved, measures to stop sexual violence and abuse of children will always be cost-effective as they are an investment in a healthy community, based on the respect for human rights.

But we also rely on networks like your own to spread the word about the Pact and to lobby mayors, councillors, and members of regional parliaments to sign up for it.  I would like to urge you all to take a copy of the Pact home with you and to discuss its implementation with your elected representatives.  We have a new online Pact platform on which towns and regions, but also organisations can sign up.  This Platform has been specifically designed so signatories to the Pact may create their own “Pact webpage” onto which they may upload information on their strategies and actions.  Our aim is that this Platform will develop into a rich database of initiatives and policies to combat sexual exploitation and abuse of children that can inform and inspire other towns’, regions’ and associations’ actions.

I am convinced that your Network can play a major role in helping the Congress and the Council of Europe to achieve the aims of our ONE in FIVE Campaign as we are all working towards the same aim, that of building a child-friendly society that fully respects their rights.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your attention and I wish you a fruitful conference.