UN, New York
(The spoken version shall take precedence)
Ladies and gentlemen
It is my great pleasure to be with you at the United Nations on the eve of the Summit for the adoption of the next set of global goals. And it touches me that one of the new goals calls for what we at the World Childhood Foundation have been pursuing for more than 15 years. I am referring to Goal 16.2: "End abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against children".
I am hopeful that the new agenda: “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” will help us give every child a chance to reach its full potential.
Recognizing the importance of the inter-linkages and integrated nature of the new Sustainable Development Goals, you – the leaders of governments, the UN system, civil society, the private sector and academia – will play a critical role in ensuring that this new global framework can benefit all children. Therefore, I see today’s meeting as an opportunity to highlight not merely what we might do, or what we ought to do, but what we can do; what solutions we do have and how we can best scale them up to address the challenges that seem so overwhelming to the average citizen.
I know this challenge can be met just as the goal of reducing poverty is being successfully addressed when, only two decades ago, no one thought it possible. I know this because my family and I have been deeply engaged in children’s rights for more than two decades in Sweden and internationally.
Most recently, I was pleased to participate in a remarkable conference organized at the Vatican by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences and the Swedish Embassy to the Holy See. The topic was child trafficking! This extraordinary event was an embodiment of the personal commitment of Pope Francis. You can imagine my feelings in meeting this remarkable man to discuss our mutual commitment to the world’s millions of children whose childhood is being robbed of them.
For me, it all began in 1994, when I together with WHO established Mentor Foundation, an NGO that, today, operates in 8 countries with projects implemented in over 60 countries. Mentor’s key programs focus on bringing a caring adult, a mentor, into young people’s lives.
The world has changed. Today we witness a horrific period of wars, terrorism, unstoppable drug cartels, the creation of new synthetic drugs, and misuse of the wonders of the Internet. All these threats create a potential for abusing our children. So why did I inaugurate Mentor Foundation? It was my belief that there was a role for an organization to help young people to navigate for a positive future in challenging times to become healthy and active members of the global community with the opportunity to fulfil their potential.
Over two decades, we have built up experience from prevention programs in many countries, and we have benefitted from sharing experiences and best practices with experts internationally. International collaboration is fundamental to combating this challenging situation. Our work is as important today as it was 20 years ago.
In 1996, Stockholm hosted the First World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. I was there and will never forget one of the speakers, a young girl who had survived sexual trafficking. Her story haunted me for years, especially because I knew that she was just one child among millions of children who are sexually abused.
Then, I met another child! On one of my trips to Brazil where I grew up, I insisted on visiting a favela. There, I met a little boy living in a paper box. Meeting that little boy living alone in a paper box, protected by 6 thin pieces of cardboard from every imaginable risk, meeting that young girl who was trafficked, in 1999, I started the World Childhood Foundation.
Initially, I merely wanted to bring global attention to the scale of sexual abuse and exploitation of children and the need to protect children. Today, with offices in Sweden, Brazil, the USA and Germany, our foundation has supported more than 600 projects in more than 20 countries.
Sexual abuse of children is deeply associated with stigma. And although the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most widely ratified UN convention, the burden of sexual abuse of children remains high in developed as well as the developing countries. We must break the silence and find constructive ways of preventing all forms of child abuse.
In Brazil, our office has pioneered and scaled up an innovative approach to protection of children from sexual violence by stimulating the private sector, government and civil society to work together. Now, many truckers and construction workers – roaming far from home – have learned to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. Childhood Brasil has been stimulating a dialogue among civil society, government and the private sector, helping each one to think of solutions how to fulfil their roles.
Childhood Brazil also led a strong campaign during the last World Cup, and, today, it is partnering with Rio 2016 to spread the word during the next Olympics that we need to come together to protect children.
Impacting on the Brazilian justice system, our office has been working with the government to implement the “Special Deposition” project in which victims of sexual abuse are interviewed once by specialists who have been trained in child psychology and interview techniques, instead of being interviewed several times during the legal proceedings.
Here in the US, Childhood is supporting Child Advocacy Centers for victims of abuse and, in addition, funds legal services for children from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Mexico who are coming unaccompanied to the US and are at risk of being trafficked.
Every year, the Childhood and Mentor projects contribute to protecting thousands of children in more than 80 countries. That’s the GOOD news. But there are millions more children who need our support.
There are the exploding numbers of refugee children in Europe, Africa, Asia and other parts of the world. They too deserve a chance. Every year, over 200 million children are victims of sexual abuse and 1-2 million are victims of sex and labour trafficking. With increased access to Internet and connectivity, we are experiencing an untold increase in cyber violence against children. How can we protect all these millions of children from abuse and exploitation, from drug abuse, trafficking, and now also cyber violence?
Instead of playing and learning, millions of children continue to be trafficked for sex, as child soldiers, and as forced labour. Instead of feeling loved and nurtured, they are robbed of their childhoods and their dignity.
So let me return to the Pope and to the United Nations where we stand today. With the commitment of Pope Francis and with the commitment of 193 nations as represented in the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, and with you here by my side, I am hopeful that change is possible.
Let’s commit to End abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence and torture against children (SDG 16.2).
Let’s do this together.