In no country are children truly safe from violence. Physical and mental violence against children takes place in the home and family, in schools, in governmental institutions and in workplaces. Children are beaten, molested, tortured, sexually abused, held in slavery and trafficked.
Violence against children is in itself a grave violation of children’s human rights. The Convention on the Rights of the Child explicitly establishes state responsibility to protect children against all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, and maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse.
Violence also impairs or even nullifies children’s enjoyment of other human rights and freedoms – such as the right to health and privacy and in too many cases even the right to life. Moreover, child victims of violence frequently experience that violence and abuse prevent them from enjoying freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of organisation.
Children from vulnerable groups and children in dire straits are particularly vulnerable to violence and abuse. This applies to minority, abandoned and low caste children, disabled and immigrant children and children in armed conflict. Girls suffer from widespread gender-based violence.
Indeed, violence against children harms the members of our society who are least able to protect themselves. Still, in general perpetrators of violence against children enjoy impunity. Children are often left without remedies, without a place to address their plea for protection and assistance.
We must not remain silent in the face of violence against the most defenceless in our society. The UN study on violence against children is important towards ending this silence. Norway welcomes the momentum created by Professor Pinheiro in close co-operation with UN agencies, states and NGOs in collecting facts and best practices and suggesting measures to prevent and respond to violence against children.
We look forward to Professor Pinheiro’s final report, particularly on the issue of ensuring state accountability. Efforts must not end with the release of the report. The study recommendations should be clear and linked with objective and feasible suggestions for implementation. We must take the momentum we are currently experiencing as a unique opportunity to deepen our commitment both at national, regional or global levels to ensure a life free from violence for every child.
To further strengthen our endeavours the Norwegian Government recently launched a strategy to combat sexual and physical child abuse. The strategy runs from 2005 to 2009, and includes measures to prevent and disclose such abuse, strengthen the assistance and therapeutic measures offered to children and their families, as well as a strengthening of research and professional qualifications.
The prohibition of all forms of corporal punishment is an important step towards ending violence against children. In Norway, corporal punishment of children became explicitly prohibited as of 1986. Looking back, it seems quite extraordinary that children, the most vulnerable members of society, should have had less protection from being hit and humiliated than the rest of us.
In Europe, the human rights mechanisms of the Council of Europe are now insisting that children must have equal protection. The Parliamentary Assembly has called for the continent to become a corporal-punishment-free-zone for children as quickly as possible; already 16 member states have reformed their laws. If we are to take our human rights obligations seriously we must tackle this issue. The UN Secretary General's Study will have achieved a great deal if it accelerates the end of this legalised violence against children that comes in the guise of "discipline".
It is imperative that we enable children to actively take part in this struggle. The active participation of children is in itself a remedy against violence. All states should be inspired by the way children have been involved by the independent expert in the process of the study. The active participation of children, especially at the regional level, has further strengthened the dynamics and legitimacy of the process.
Children must never be made or allowed to remain invisible. Invisible children are easy prey to perpetrators of violence. The participation of especially vulnerable groups and children in dire straits is critical as these children are generally the least visible and have the fewest spokespersons.
Children are particularly vulnerable in situations of war and armed conflict, as physical, mental and sexual violence escalates and social structures and safety nets break down. Norway welcomes Security Council resolution 1612 on children and armed conflict. It is critical that the reporting and monitoring mechanism on children in armed conflict is given the necessary resources and tools to carry out its mandate in an efficient, transparent and expedient manner.
In her recent report, the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict underlines the importance of systematic engagement by the Security Council, deployment of child protection advisers to UN peacekeeping operations, the incorporation of children and children’s issues throughout peacekeeping processes and the engagement and interaction with civil society in this respect. The recommendations set out in the report should be followed up.
Furthermore, we encourage all relevant UN special procedures to focus on child victims of violence and on societal structures that leave children vulnerable to violence and abuse.
Recently the Norwegian Government launched a strategy on Children and Youth in the South. It provides a platform for action based on children’s rights and investing in children in development, building on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the plan of action, "A World Fit for Children" and the UN Millennium Development Goals. An ambassador for children in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been appointed and will head the follow-up. I am pleased to be here in this capacity.