Statement by the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography at the 28th session of the Human Rights Council
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an honor for me to address the Human Rights Council for the first time after my appointment last year as the fifth Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography. My first presentation coincides with the twenty-fifth anniversary of the establishment of the mandate on 7 March 1990. A cause for celebration but at the same time a cause for reflection and decisive action: twenty-five years after its creation, the mandate appears to be as relevant as ever.
Persisting and new forms of sale and sexual exploitation of children continue to be a reality in all regions of the world. Millions of children are subjected to sexual abuse and exploitation, being sold and trafficked to be prostituted, subjected to forced labor, illegal adoption, or the transfer of organs. Child abuse material continues to be produced, distributed, offered, sold, and consumed online and offline. There is an urgent need for all stakeholders, especially the Member States, to pass the action to put an end to these endemic crimes.
During the first nine months of my tenure, I have conducted numerous consultations with a long list of stakeholders in order to share my vision and develop the direction of my work. Partnerships amongst as many stakeholders as possible are essential to combat the global phenomena of sale and sexual exploitation affecting children. The positive responses received to my calls to work in coordination and cooperation are very promising.
Children are at the center of my mandate. As the only Special Rapporteur with an exclusive focus on children, I want them to inspire, feed and guide my work. For this purpose, I intend to maximize the potential of child participation mechanisms, such as child-friendly forums and consultations with child-led organizations.
Mr. President and distinguished delegates,
Let me now turn to the thematic priorities of my tenure. After a thorough analysis of the work of my predecessors, consultations with key stakeholders, and participation at various international conferences, I have identified the issues of concern that will require special attention during my mandate. I have devoted my first thematic report to the issue of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and the sale and sexual exploitation of children, the outcome of which I’ll develop in detail in a moment.
My next thematic report, which I will present to the General Assembly in October, will focus on the impact and consequences – on the rights to health, education, and development, among others - that the crimes of sale and sexual exploitation have on child victims. The main objective of this study will be to propose adequate and comprehensive care and recovery measures to facilitate the rehabilitation and reintegration of children from a human rights perspective.
Other issues of concern that I intend to address during my tenure are the problem of illegal adoptions, which has been the focus of the mandate since its creation, and the demand factor underpinning the sale of children, the prostitution of children, and the proliferation of child abuse material.
My intention is to ensure the follow-up of the recommendations of my thematic reports through, among others, country visits. I conceive country visits as an essential tool to assist Member States in combating the sale and sexual exploitation of children and strengthening national child protection systems, proposing specific recommendations to governments and other stakeholders on how to better protect children’s rights, with prevention as a major goal.
In this context, I would like to thank the Member States that have already accepted my requests for visits, in particular, the Republic of Armenia, the Republic of Bulgaria, Georgia, and Japan. I am pleased to announce that I will conduct my first country visit to the Republic of Armenia in May, and a visit to Japan in September. I very much look forward to engaging in a constructive dialogue with the Armenian and Japanese authorities. Moreover, I encourage Member States that have not done so yet, to respond favorably to my requests for visits, in order to enable me to fulfill my mandate effectively.
Let me now turn to my first thematic study, which is contained in my first report to the Human Rights Council. The rationale behind the selection of this topic reflects my willingness to continue with the work of my predecessors and to identify new challenges, threats, forms, and trends in the sale and sexual exploitation of children which are facilitated by the fast-evolving new technologies, in order to provide responses to ensure the protection of children.
New technologies have brought many positive aspects, including and in particular for children, who constitute the so-called digital natives and are most familiar with ICTs. Children use new technologies to access information, communicate, express their identities and facilitate their social lives. However, new technologies are also easing the commission of crimes of sexual exploitation, as well as new forms of exploitative behavior, such as the online streaming of child abuse.
New technologies provide the secrecy, anonymity, and opacity that facilitate the commission of these illegal activities. Perpetrators are benefiting from these advantages, and we need to avail ourselves of the necessary tools to effectively stop and prevent them from acting with utter impunity.
In order to be effective, responses to this phenomenon must adopt a comprehensive approach, with the incorporation of the following elements:
First, Member States must establish clear and comprehensive legal frameworks to avoid protection gaps, through explicit criminalization of specific exploitative activities in order to ensure accountability of perpetrators and the desired deterrent effect. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography provides a minimum standard of protection of children from sexual abuse and exploitation. Therefore I urge States to ratify it and implement it through adequate national legislation.
Secondly, Member States need to develop detection, reporting, and identification mechanisms to quantify the phenomena, identify the victims and track down the perpetrators. In this regard, there are a number of good practices which are worth replicating and expanding, such as child helplines and hotlines that facilitate the report of abuse and exploitation by children. Image analysis is another important tool to identify victims and perpetrators, and several national police forces have developed image databases that are amalgamated into a single international database operated by INTERPOL.
Thirdly, Member States need to create specialist law enforcement units that work closely with specialist agencies that are specifically trained to work with child victims. Members States must adopt proactive prosecution strategies to combat these crimes and dismantle criminal networks.
Fourthly, child victims must have access to child-sensitive justice and redress. Children must have easy access to child-friendly complaint and reporting mechanisms, appropriate support and counseling at all stages of proceedings, and access to remedy and reparation. My next thematic study will shed further light on the consequences and impact of these crimes in order to propose effective and child-centered care and recovery measures for victims.
In addition to these specific measures, Member States need to invest in prevention and protection programs. In this respect, I would like to highlight the excellent initiative launched by Insafe, a network of safer Internet centers, to devote a day of the year - called Safer Internet Day - to raising awareness about online safety. This initiative is limited to the European region but it is being replicated in the Asian region. I encourage Member States to consider establishing an international safer internet day to multiply the effects of awareness-raising campaigns beyond regional boundaries.
As I mentioned earlier, new technologies have not only brought negative effects but they have also allowed the empowerment of children to become active citizens who participate in public life. I fully support and join the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Violence against Children in her advocacy efforts to promote an empowering, inclusive and safe digital agenda for children as part of a comprehensive strategy. I encourage the Human Rights Council, other UN bodies, and Member States to integrate the issue of new technologies and their impact on children’s rights into existing initiatives and processes, including the post-2015 development agenda, and to devote next year’s annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child to the issue of ICTs and the sexual exploitation of children.
Mr. President and distinguished delegates,
In order to effectively tackle online sexual abuse and exploitation of children, we must actively involve the ICT industry. We need to expand its role in providing resources and technical expertise. We must expand to all region's financial coalitions against child pornography, which have demonstrated a significant impact on detecting transactions related to child sexual exploitation.
The Internet industry is uniquely placed to act as a conduit for reporting suspicions and blocking inappropriate material. The industry has the potential to reinforce key Internet safety messages but also to develop new methods of keeping children safe. Initiatives aimed at enhancing engagement with the industry in its wider form, including not only Internet service and content providers, but also application developers and hosts, should be encouraged.
In this regard, I welcome the We#PROTECT initiative launched by the United Kingdom last December to tackle online sexual abuse and exploitation of children and commend the 47 States, 14 leading ICT companies, and 10 civil society organizations that signed up to statements of action to combat the scourge. It is expected that all signatories will honor their pledges, and will be followed by other States by joining this initiative to make it global, inclusive, and effective.
Effective international cooperation is key to putting an end to impunity, and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography captures this essential element by imposing on its State Parties the legal obligation to take all necessary steps to strengthen international cooperation (Article 10). Moreover, the Optional Protocol calls for international mutual legal assistance (Article 6) and promotes the principle of extraterritorial jurisdiction over these offenses (Article 4).
There are a number of good examples of effective international cooperation that are contributing to the combat against child sexual exploitation, such as the Virtual Global Taskforce and the Global Alliance against Child Sexual Abuse Online. However, the main challenge lies in expanding access to the knowledge, methods, and tools successfully used by these initiatives to all regions of the world, adapting the means to their needs and specific characteristics of the phenomena at the national and regional levels. We need to ensure that all countries in the world benefit from lessons learned and good practices already used to effectively combat the phenomena.
I believe that there exists further room for solid international cooperation. Member States and the international community would benefit from strengthening either these alliances or establishing a new permanent framework that could reach all UN members. This permanent framework would focus not only on cooperation in law enforcement and the exchange of good practices but also on capacity building of countries that are willing to effectively combat child sexual exploitation, online and offline.
Let me now introduce to you the main conclusions and recommendations gathered by my predecessor, Ms. Najat Maalla M’jid, in her follow-up visit to Honduras, which she conducted between the 21st and 25th of April 2014. My predecessor thanked the government of Honduras for its availability and spirit of dialogue and cooperation presented before, during, and after her visit.
During her follow-up visit, my predecessor took note of some advances made by the Government to prevent and eliminate the sale and sexual exploitation of children. In particular, she welcomed the consolidation of the Inter-Agency Committee against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking of Children and Adolescents, the incipient advances achieved by the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Children, the legislative reforms accomplished, and the creation of a lead agency for comprehensive child protection policy, with the allocation of a budget of 10 million US dollars.
With a view to achieving real improvements in the situation of Honduran children, my predecessor urges the national authorities to make child rights protection a high priority on the agenda. To this end, she encourages the Honduran Government to leverage existing resources, replicate good practices, and implement outstanding recommendations, including passing the national law on adoption and ratifying the Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in respect of Intercountry Adoption.
She also urges the State of Honduras to prioritize the establishment of a comprehensive child protection policy; to ensure that the new Directorate for Children, Adolescents, and the Family performs its coordinating and supervisory functions in respect of comprehensive child protection policy in alignment with the human rights policy and national human rights action plan; and to create a coordinated framework for cooperation in the implementation of the comprehensive child protection policy, with the support of international cooperation agencies and the United Nations system, focussing on harmonization of the information, follow-up and monitoring system, institutional capacity-building, and police and judicial cooperation in the fight against the sale and sexual exploitation of children.
I remain at the disposal of the State of Honduras to assist in the effective implementation of the recommendations issued by my predecessor.
Mr. President and distinguished delegates,
The current negotiations around the post-2015 development agenda offer an extraordinary opportunity to make a real breakthrough in the child protection agenda. Member States must maintain the agreed goals and targets to end abuse, exploitation, trafficking, and all forms of violence against children, and to eliminate harmful practices, including child marriage. In addition, in order to assess progress, Member States need to set clear indicators, including the establishment and enforcement of legislation, effective response and follow-up to reports and complaints, and the development of quality care and recovery systems. Moreover, accountability and equity must be the implementing principles in order to ensure that also the most vulnerable and marginalized children benefit from progress without discrimination.
On the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the mandate, I am convinced that stronger support for the mandate will be essential to ensure the effective implementation of the goals set out when it was created. Despite the daunting tasks ahead, I still believe that we have at least 2.2 billion reasons to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the mandate and the fifteenth anniversary of the Optional Protocol - as many reasons as children in the world. And we also have at least 5 billion additional people who can be mobilized to improve the world. And we are part of them. Let’s assume our responsibility together.
Thank you for your attention and look forward to a fruitful dialogue with you.