Each child is precious. Each child is endowed with basic human rights. Yet, the rights of millions of children each year are abused and violated. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child spells out the rights of the world’s children in 54 articles.
Among these enumerated rights are:
- the obligation for states to act in the best interests of the child (Article 3);
- the responsibility to ensure that children’s rights are respected, protected and fulfilled (Article 4);
- the right of survival and development (Article 6);
- the right to family reunification (Article 10);
- the protection against kidnapping (Article 11);
- the right to be heard and participate (Article 12);
- the protection against all forms of violence (Article 19);
- the right to good quality health care (Article 24);
and of special interest and importance to the participants in this forum;
- the right to be protected from sexual exploitation (Article 34);
- the right to be protected from abduction, sale and trafficking (Article 35); and
- the right to rehabilitation for child victims (Article 39).
Articles 34 and 35 are further enhanced by the Convention’s Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography.
Yet, in spite of this historic framework there is abundant evidence that the rights of the world’s children are being violated on a daily basis in all parts of the globe.
There are indications that with the advent of the Internet, the abuse and exploitation of children have become even greater problems. For the first time in human history, millions of people have easy, virtually anonymous access to images of the sexual abuse of children online. There is also growing evidence that organized criminals are marketing and selling children as commodities online.
Perhaps most alarming is the fact that child trafficking and child sexual exploitation have become an industry. Why would organized criminals engage in the sale and trade of children? The reasons are obvious. Children are plentiful and easily accessed; this illicit business is easy, low cost, and there is a huge consumer market for the children; it is enormously profitable; and it is low risk, far less risky than the illegal trade in drugs, weapons, tobacco, etc. Our goal must be to increase the risk and eliminate the profitability of this illicit industry. A key element in achieving this goal is to mobilize world leaders to attack the demand worldwide for sex and other illegal activity involving children.
The attendees of this forum believe that the world is facing a crisis in its efforts to preserve the rights of children and protect all children from abuse and sexual exploitation. This crisis requires new thinking, new approaches, and new global awareness. In much of the world today there is inadequate law, inadequate awareness and knowledge, and inadequate capacity to act effectively to address this problem.
The people of the world look to governments and international bodies to enact and enforce laws, treaties, and protocols to preserve the rights of children and prevent the exploitation of children in all its forms. We look to law enforcement, prosecutors, and the judiciary to enforce such laws fairly and aggressively in order to protect the world’s children. Yet, government alone is not the answer. We must mobilize caring, concerned citizens around the world. We must awaken the public to the toll of abuse and exploitation on our most vulnerable citizens. We must speak together in a strong, loud voice, demanding change and calling upon world leaders to act.
Private corporations must join in this effort, bringing innovation and new solutions to our fight against the traffickers and exploiters. New technologies are dramatically improving the quality of life for millions of people. Yet, these same technologies present new opportunities for exploiters and those who victimize children. The same companies which develop these new technologies must be an integral part of the effort to ensure that the technologies are not misused to harm children.
The fight to protect children is one which can unify citizens in every country, every culture and every religion. The poet Kahlil Gibran wrote, “Keep me away from the wisdom that does not cry, the philosophy which does not laugh, and the greatness which does not bow before children.” The attendees of this Roman Forum call upon world leaders and people everywhere to join us in a global campaign to protect the world’s children.
Recommendations for Action
- That the attendees of this Roman Forum join in a unified call for greater global awareness and action to eradicate the abuse and exploitation of the world’s children and commit to undertake a global awareness campaign.
- That a global summit be convened, involving heads of state, leaders of international bodies, business leaders and other world figures to identify new cooperative actions to eradicate the abuse and exploitation of the world’s children.
- That world leaders commit to undertake a concerted effort to dismantle the system of supply and demand that keeps the sale and marketing of children robust across the globe.
- That leaders of the world’s great religions become engaged in proactive efforts to inform and mobilize members of every faith to join in a global movement to protect the world’s children.
- That parliaments around the world examine their existing laws and enact new, improved laws to better protect children and to hold those accountable who abuse and exploit children.
- That leaders of technology companies commit to develop and implement new tools and technologies to attack the proliferation of sex abuse images on the Internet and interdict the redistribution of the images of identified child victims.
- That leaders of the financial industry, the information industry and other key industries join together in voluntary coalitions to better attack the problem of abuse and sexual exploitation.
- That the attendees of this Roman Forum urge the creation of a global initiative to improve the recognition and identification of child victims, and ensure help for the massive numbers of hidden victims of child abuse and sexual exploitation.
- That physicians and medical institutions around the world enhance training for medical professionals in recognizing the warning signs of abuse and sexual exploitation, and improve the reporting and treatment of such abuse and sexual exploitation.
- That physicians, medical institutions and social services agencies ensure that adequate and appropriate treatment and support is provided to the victims of child sexual abuse, and that steps be taken to ensure that these children are not re-victimized during or after their treatment.
- That governments and private institutions enhance resources available to psychiatric and other treatment professionals for expanded treatment and rehabilitation services for children who have been trafficked, exploited or abused.
- That mental health and criminal justice institutions implement research-based, clinically-proven treatment programs for sex abusers, and that effective systems be developed for measuring the effectiveness of such treatment in order to minimize recidivism.
- That public and private institutions place greater emphasis on the role of the family in nurturing and protecting children, and that efforts be undertaken globally to strengthen families in every nation and every culture.
- That each individual around the world recognizes a child as a human being with his or her own dignity and rights, as an individual person who has a voice which should be heard. Young people contribute to their own and other children’s safety by taking part in discussions and providing advice to policy-makers, parents and teachers.
- That national leaders commit to build national centers in their countries and cooperative regional centers in their geographic regions to focus on creating a better, more effective and coordinated response to cases of child abduction, child trafficking and sexual exploitation.
- That all governments should create a senior-level position within their government responsible for children’s rights to advise the head of state, advocate for basic changes domestically and internationally to better protect children, and to serve as the top official in the country charged with defending and protecting the rights of children.
- That law enforcement organizations expand regional and global cooperation in order to improve information sharing in investigations and increase collaborative efforts in addressing these crimes against children which cross national boundaries.
- That law enforcement institutions around the world enhance training for law enforcement officers in recognizing the warning signs of abuse and sexual exploitation.
- That training and education be provided for the world’s judiciary, ensuring that judges everywhere apply and enforce the laws regarding the violation of the basic human rights of children and the sexual exploitation of children seriously and uniformly, and further that such training emphasize that those who victimize children must be held fully accountable under the law.
- That citizens in every country be made more alert and aware regarding the abuse and sexual exploitation of children, and that they be urged to report such abuse or exploitation to appropriate authorities if they see it, know about it, or suspect it.