Accession of Croatia to the European Union opens opportunities for a better and more intensive cooperation between the Child Protection Center of Zagreb and the Council of Europe and the European Union member states. We have been invited to present our practice of hearing children-victims during the criminal pre-trial in the child friendly environment. The presentation was held at the Council of Europe Strasbourg Seminar on 9 February 2012.
International standards in the prevention of child sexual abuse were discussed within the promotion of the Council of Europe campaign ‘One in Five’ at the high-level round table in the United Nations. The round table was held within the 55 Session of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York on 28 February 2011.
The Center and the our professionals feel honoured by being invited to participate in the promotion of this Council of Europe campaign with the presentation of the Child Protection Center of Zagreb work which has been recognised as a successful model of work with traumatised children and of education and coordination of professionals at all levels of prevention and intervention in compliance with what the Council of Europe has been promoting.
Respond to concrete needs of children
The speakers were Ms Maude de Boer-Buquicchio, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe and Ms Marta Santos Pais, the Special Representative on Violence Against Children for the United Nations in New York. The host and moderator of the round table was Yuriy Sergeyev, Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the UN.
Ms de Boer-Buquicchio emphasized that this Council of Europe campaign is not only an awareness raising campaign, but also an empowering tool that responds to concrete needs of children and creates opportunities for action by all social partners. The number of research papers in this field and public awareness of the child sexual abuse problem should be increased. Mechanisms of reporting abuse and helping services should be made available to children. Both children and parents should be educated, professionals should be given guidelines, and perpetrators should be provided treatment. All this is possible with coordinated action of all services, adequate sexual education of children, participation and partnership in distributing information with the media, mobilisation of the private sector, non-government organisations projects funding, involvement of children in the creation and implementation of prevention programmes, while coordinating bodies should be established at the national level.
Increasing the visibility of child sexual abuse
The Special Representative on Violence Against Children for the United Nations in New York, Ms Marta Santos Pais presented troublesome statistics that, according to UN statistics on child abuse in the world in 2006, 150 million girls and 73 million boys were raped or exposed to sexual abuse, mostly by a family member or a person the child trusted.
Ms Santos Pais stressed that the aim of the campaign is increasing the visibility of child sexual abuse in order to solicit more adequate social reactions. She expressed belief that the ‘One in Five’ campaign will also contribute to research to be conducted and relevant data on this phenomenon as well as its long term consequences on children’s health to be gathered.
‘Our work cannot be based on assumptions and anecdotal data’, said Ms Santos Pais and emphasized the importance of mechanisms aiming at empowering children, informing them and being available for reliable advice. On her missions and in her experience she witnessed that these services were often unavailable even when established, because of the insufficiency of professionals and/or skills necessary in working with sexually abused children.
In many cases children were not aware that such services even existed, did not know where to go, who to call, where to ask for professional advice and help, having to cope with social taboos and additional exposure to stigmatisation, perpetrators being the persons the children trusted and close to them. Parents often shrouded such incidents believing that it was the right way to adequately care for their children and protect the family.
In her conclusion, Ms Santos Pais said that sometimes in this field professionals had insufficient education to recognise early symptoms in children and react in an ethical and child-friendly manner. They sometimes did not know whether and to whom to report child sexual abuse.
It is important that we all send children the message that we will hear them and protect them.
Zagreb’s Child Protection Center: model of good practice
The speech presented the structure and work of the Center, where, apart from the direct work with children and their parents, the following activities have been conducted: forensic evaluation, research, training of professionals from the health care and other institutions, supervision and publishing materials for children, parents and professionals.
The necessity of cooperation among all institutions involved in the protection of sexually abused children was presented through a case of a sexually abused girl who, among other things because of the inadequate and uncoordinated reactions of the system, attempted suicide several times.
Successful recovery of the girl started only after, at the Center’s initiative, a cooperation among the health, school, judicial and social care systems had been established. Exactly as our teacher Dr William Friedrich from the Mayo clinic articulated: ‘Working with the abused child always involves at least four telephone calls to cooperating institutions’.
Round table participants and panellists emphasized that the model of work in the Center could be a model of good practice to other countries.
More on the round table can be read on the web site of the Council of Europe.