On 27 and 28 March, Dubrovnik was a meeting point of the high level representatives of the Council of Europe member countries and leading experts in child protection. Within the high level Conference “Growing with Children’s Rights”, the Council of Europe gathered more than 180 government representatives, international and human rights organisations, non-government organisations, international experts, members of professional associations, parliamentary representatives, members of local and regional authorities, ombudsmen and the youth.

Representatives of the Child Protection Center of Zagreb also participated in the Conference. The Center was recognised as an example of good practice in the protection of abused children by the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect as early as in 2008.

Director of the Center Gordana Buljan Flander, Assoc. Prof., Ph. D., was invited to speak at the round table “Prevention and combatting sexual violence against children” about the “The challenge of adressing child sexual abuse within the circle of trust”. On behalf of the Center, psychologists Marija Crnković, Ana Marija Španić and Tea Brezinšćak participated at the Conference.

The Conference was officially opened by Croatian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Social Policy and the Youth, Milanka Opačić, Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjørn Jagland and the Ambassador of Montenegro, Committee of Ministers, Ana Vukadinović who expressed their wish for successful work in the achievement of our common goals.

Building a Europe for and with Children

The work of the participants was focused on the assessment of the development achieved in the protection and promotion of children’s rights within the implementation of the Council of Europe Strategy for the Rights of the Child (2012-2015), the Monaco Strategy. This strategy was developed within the program Building a Europe for and with Children and it is oriented to the efficient implementation of the existing standards of children’s rights defined by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Strategy attaches great importance to the efficiency, effectiveness, impact, sustainability and relevance of the actions conducted to meet its objectives in the following strategic areas:

– promoting child-friendly services and systems

– eliminating all forms of violence against children

– guaranteeing the rights of children in vulnerable situations

– promoting child participation.

Are we growing or just getting older, was the question with which Marta Santos Pais, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Violence against Children (SESG VAC), began her speech at the plenary session on the existing and new challenges in children rights protection in Europe. Participants of the Conference reviewed the development achieved during the first two years of the Strategy implementation, with special attention given to the recognition of good practice in Europe and to the identification of the existing challenges in children rights protection in Europe. Guidelines and priority activities in children’s rights protection in the future were proposed, and great importance was attached to exploring possibilities of synergy between interest groups at national and international levels, aiming at strengthening the importance and impact of various initiatives.

One in Five

Round table “Prevention and Combatting Sexual Violence against Children” gathered experts in the protection of children from sexual abuse. Research show that one in five children in Europe experienced some form of sexual abuse. It is estimated that in 70 to 85% of cases the abuser was someone the child knew and whom s/he trusted. Sexual abuse of children can have various forms, including sexual abuse within the family, child pornography and prostitution, bidding via the Internet, sexual exploitation and sexual abuse by peers.

These were the data which inspired the Council of Europe Campaign “One in Five” which started in 2010. This Campaign contributed to awareness raising about the Council of Europe Convention on Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, concluded and signed in 2007 in Lanzarote. Bragi Guðbrandsson, Director of the Government Agency for Child Protection of Iceland, and the Vice-Chair of the Lanzarote Committee, talked about the significance of the Lanzarote Convention and mechanisms of monitoring its implementation in the development of an integrated and strategic approach in the prevention and combat against sexual abuse of children. Participants also had an opportunity to get information about the achievements, potential obstacles and future courses of the Council of Europe Campaign “One in Five”. Georgiana Pascu, Programme Manager of the Centre for Legal Resources in Romania, indicated the need for investing further efforts in order to ensure full protection of the children and youth placed in institutions.

Director of the Child Protection Center, Gordana Buljan Flander, Assoc. Prof., Ph. D.,  was among the experts who devoted their work to the protection of children from sexual abuse. She presented the achievements in the past period realised through cross-institutional and international cooperation, emphasizing the importance of the cooperation within the child protection system, the implementation of child-friendly justice, the education of parents and professionals, the implementation of research based practices in the traumatised children treatment and scientific research.

Numerous Cases Still Remain Undisclosed

At the same time, Director of the Center pointed out that, in spite of our efforts invested in the awareness raising about the sexual abuse of children, numerous cases still remain undisclosed. According to some estimates, 9 out of 10 sexually abused children never speak about their experience, while those who decide to speak, often do it in their adulthood.

Based on the experience of the Center, Gordana Buljan Flander suggested several guidelines for the future. These guidelines are aiming at the improvement of the child protection system. Special significance was attached to introducing compulsory and permanent education of professionals who see sexually abused children in their professional work and the improvement of cooperation between child protection institutions within the system, cooperation of the governmental and nongovernmental sectors and international cooperation, especially through the recognition of models of good practice. Grounded on international research results, she indicated the importance of investments in the prevention of sexual abuse of children and the need for additional resources in this field.

Round tables were organised and held on the “Children’s Rights to Child-friendly Services: Health and Social Services” where two Council of Europe standards about child-friendly and family-friendly health and social services had been discussed a few days before by Bragi Guðbrandsson in his speech at the Child Protection Center of Zagreb, and on the “Promotion the Rights of Children in Alternative Care”, emphasizing the harmonisation of children’s rights in alternative care with international standards. Other themes of round tables included “Juvenile Justice: First Resort Measures First” where possible alternatives to formal criminal procedure which would guarantee the welfare of the child and the protection of the best interest of the child were discussed, “Violence Against Girls and Young Women under 18″, with the emphasis on the implementation of the Instambul Convention related to the series of measures for the prevention of sex-based abuse of women and girls, as well as “Child Participation: Generating Change” where participants discussed the participation rights of children and concrete guidelines on granting these rights.

Living Library

Speciality of this conference was the experience of participating in the Living Library. This method of communication was aimed at enabling a constructive dialogue among persons who otherwise would not have an opportunity to communicate. Living library functions similar to a common library – readers borrow “the book” for a set time period. However, books in this case are persons who share their personal experience with the readers. Among other titles which attracted the participants was the title “Psychotherapist Working with Abused Children”, the psychologist of the Child Protection Center, Marija Crnković, who shared her experience with the “readers”.

Download final report (PDF, 473 kB): http://www.coe.int/t/dg3/children/dubrovnik/Dubrovnik_FinalReport_en.pdf

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