Your Majesty, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Scouts,
Last week a youth movement with admirable values had gathered at a small island in Norway. They advocate for justice in a society where all have equal opportunities. The camp was interrupted with violence and evil rarely seen. The respect for their ideals and their lives was brutally violated. My thoughts are with the many families who have had their lives permanently changed and damaged.
However, my hope is that they will uphold their values and continue to fight for mutual respect and especially respect for children´s rights, which brings me to the difficult topic of today´s conference — for in the end it is the fight for our children and their right to grow up in a safe environment, wherever they are, that forces us to relentlessly drive this message home.
‘It is difficult to carry deeply buried secrets´ — The words are Patrik Sjöberg´s, a well-known Swedish athlete, who among many, many achievements has one gold medal in men´s high jump from the World Championships in Rome 1987 as well as silver medals from the Olympic games in Los Angeles and Barcelona and one bronze medal from Seoul. This spring, after almost 35 years, he finally had the strength and courage to talk about the sexual abuse his coach exposed him to as a young child. Patrik´s disclosure triggered several other athletes to come forward and witness to sexual abuse that had taken place for years without anyone knowing. Because when you are being abused by someone you trust, someone your parents like and maybe even admire, how shall you then as a child formulate words that no one wants to hear? As adults we have an obligation to ensure that children dare to speak up, and to make sure that they are listened to. This is why it is so important that we are all gathered here today— that we support every effort made to protect our children from sexual abuse.
Last year, The Convention on the Rights of the Child celebrated its 20th anniversary. According to the convention the best interest of the child shall always be respected and States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child. This is an important article, and together with article 34 where ‘States Parties undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. It forms an important base for anyone working with these difficult issues. A base that the World Scout Movement has taken seriously.
The wellbeing of children has always been a priority for me, and is also the reason I founded World Childhood Foundation, where one of our target groups is children victims of abuse. Any youth movement or organization will always attract adults who sometimes do not mean the children well, but instead seek to exploit them. It is therefore of vital importance that we as adults keep an extra eye on the leaders we hire and trust among our children. As a child you are in the hands of adults who are to lead you through your Childhood and bring you safe and sound into adulthood — this is our responsibility. When I first raised the issue of sexual abuse of children in Paris 1994 people were chocked. These things were never openly discussed or talked about. Since then I have seen major changes taken place and there is today an awareness and willingness to fight these crimes against children.
Already in 1990, just months after the Convention on the Rights of the child was signed, the World Organization of the Scout movement called on its national Scout Organizations ‘to find creative means to familiarize their leaders with their articles in the Convention and play an active role in encouraging their Governments to ratify the Convention and in promoting dissemination among adults and children. And then again, in 2002 the World Scout Conference adopted a Resolution on “Keeping Scouts Safe from Harm", which has since then been their key policy on child protection.
Today we see the fruits of this work and the scout movement´s call for action. The Swedish Scouts have introduced e-learning on Safe From Harm as compulsory training for all their leaders. We have already seen the first fruits of this initiative — about 11.000 scouts from 120 countries have gone through this education. Thank you! Well done! This international conference takes it a bit further by encouraging all the leaders to bring back the good example to their countries. For it is not until we are united in our cause that we can fully expect results. So, I applaud the efforts of the Scout Movement, and I applaud everyone committed to attend this conference. To ensure the training of the leaders that will care for our children is necessary.
However, we must never forget that the greatest assets for the prevention of sexual abuse are the children themselves. The best preventive measure is to encourage children to speak, not only to listen to them, but to actually hear what they are saying, and then prove that you as an adult are capable of taking action. We have to help the children to be strong enough to avoid and eventually expose sexual predators.
Before I finish I would like to remind everyone here that this does not only have to be disseminated through the scout movement but should also be applicable to any youth movement. In Childhood we always try to replicate good models and methods. Let this be a model worth replicating, and let us try to ensure that this is applicable to any youth movement in your respective countries.