H.M. Queen Silvia of Sweden on 8 February visited Udon Thani to attend the Academic Conference for the Lay judges from the Juvenile and Family Courts of Thailand. Her Majesty was invited to speak on the issue of children’s rights, stressing the importance to enhance awareness of sexual exploitation of children.
From Her Majesty’s speech:
“I carry with me a quote by a young girl I met many years ago at the second World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Yokohama.
’Your Majesty’, the little girl said, bravely stepping forward to greet me, ’thank you for giving us a voice’.
Her words stay with me until today. Giving this girl a voice, to me means recognizing her and the millions of children who, like her, are victim of child sexual abuse. Too often, still, this horrific crime is surrounded by taboos, it is silenced and remains invisible. As adults we must all dare to see it and dare to speak up. Because breaking the silence is the first and necessary step towards making positive change.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share some of my own experiences in the field. My personal involvement has been a long path guided by encounters with people generously sharing their knowledge and experience. I would like to mention Ecpat and Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn as one of the pioneers who first made me aware of the problem of child sexual abuse.
The most important encounters, however, remain those with children themselves. I have learnt so much from them.
Almost twenty years ago, in 1999, I founded the World Childhood Foundation in order to actively engage against violence, sexual abuse and exploitation of children. With a holistic approach we identify and support some of the most vulnerable children and families. We help prevent abuse by creating protective environments and strengthening children in their own resilience. From the very beginning Childhood has invested in innovative solutions, new methods and technical innovations for instance to address Internet related abuse.
Childhood has a long history of close cooperation with Thailand. This is one of the first countries we worked in and we launched the first project already in 2001. In Thailand, we have supported children without protective families, children living and working on the streets, girls at high-risk for trafficking and exploitation, young mothers as well as children who have already experienced violence.
We have time and time again seen the value of investing in families. Giving families in vulnerable situations practical and social support that can enable them to care for their children is one of the most important contributions we can make to prevent children from ending up on the street, in an orphanage or in the sex industry.”
H.M. Queen Silvia continued to give some examples: the collaboration with Friends International, a work that started out in Bangkok and has now expanded to also include Poi Pet at the Thai-Cambodia border; and the close to 80 so called Child Safe Agents that have been educated. Child safe agents are volunteers recruited to be the eyes and ears for children, watching out for their safety.
”Through this network we are able to increase the chance to detect abusive situations and children at risk at an early stage before a child gets harmed and gets its rights violated.”
Through the with Friends International project, more than 800 children and youth annually receive direct services aimed to protect them from abuse and reintegrate them into safe families, schools and communities.
Another example of their work in Thailand, said Her Majesty, is with their partner One Sky Foundation, active in Sangkhlabouri area. ”When they launched their outreach program the only support available for families in need was in the form of orphanage care. That had led to hundreds (650) of families effectively abandoning their children in the belief it was the only available alternative that would give their child a better future.”
In this program children get educated to be capable of identifying situations of abuse and more prone to disclose to a trusted adult
”Too many children never disclose abuse because they do not know their rights, where to turn and that sexual abuse is never their fault.”
H.M. Queen Silvia also congratulated Thailand for ”being a brave pioneer with the new law that was passed in 2015 which criminalizes possession of child sexual abuse material, unfortunately still referred to as child pornography.”
”This sets an important standard and a valuable platform for collaboration. Because child sexual abuse enabled through the Internet is a global problem. Offenders come from many countries and crimes of exploitation are committed and spread across borders. Harmonized legislation helps global collaboration so that we can help fight the crime and protect children – together.
As the first nation in the ASEAN region to pass this law you also set an important example and inspire others. We have already seen Malaysia follow.”
Addressing the delegates Her Majesty continued: ”The justice system is an important corner stone in responding to child sexual abuse. Full respect for international human rights law and clear and strong national legislation are crucial starting points. But laws are only as powerful as they are implemented and as perpetrators are brought to justice. This requires awareness, knowledge and dedication.
A golden rule often referred to when it comes to the right response to child abuse is the following: ’The child, regardless of outcome, must be in a better position at the conclusion of the process, than at its start.’
This sounds simple, but sadly it is far from reality. In many places, including my own country, we see cases where legal systems do not always appropriately listen to the child. Or even worse, cases that leave the child even more traumatized.
In several countries, Childhood has helped establish child friendly response to abuse by starting the Child Advocacy Centers, also known as ‘Barnahus’, where children who have suffered abuse are met in a safe environment with medical, social and legal professionals. An important principle of Barnahus is that a child should only have to tell their story of abuse once, in a child friendly setting. This way of cooperating in child-centered multidisciplinary teams, helps to ensure that young victims of abuse are not re-traumatized in the legal process. I know such initiatives exist also in Thailand. In Bangkok, I had the privilege, 14 years ago to visit the Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women, APSW, under the Royal Patronage of HRH Princess Soamsawali, and see the work of Kanitnaree. The project was supported by Childhood for several years. More recently similar initiatives are taking shape also in other parts of Thailand and I will follow the development with great anticipation.”
Her Majesty Queen Silvia’s closing words were: “Ladies and gentlemen, you all have the opportunity, and indeed the responsibility, of being a caring adult, engaging both your brain and heart for a child who has suffered abuse. You can give that child a voice.
Let me end here and leave you with my own conclusions:
• Sexual abuse of children is a horrendous crime.
• It is a global problem that requires collaboration between all good forces.
• But most importantly, it is a crime that can be prevented.
So, ladies and gentlemen, let us get to work!”
Photo credit: The Supreme Court of Thailand