HM The Queen's speech in Vatican City State
(The spoken version shall take precedence)
Ladies and Gentlemen
The child who has suffered abuse.
The child who is at risk.
The child who was robbed of its childhood, and instead carries guilt and shame.
It is for this child, ladies and gentlemen, that we are here today. And I am honoured to have this opportunity to speak to you.
20 years ago, I founded World Childhood Foundation. I hoped that as a Queen I could use my voice to shine a light on the global problem of child sexual abuse and exploitation. To speak about the unspeakable, and to give children back their right to a childhood.
My hope then was to soon close the foundation, that it would no longer be needed.
But instead, 20 years later, here we are, with an ever increasing number of children at risk of abuse and exploitation online.
Next week, on the 20th of November we celebrate 30 years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This same year also marks 30 years of the World Wide Web.
Two important birthdays, of two human creations that have had immense success and reach over the last three decades. They were born in the same year, 1989 – and their developments are intertwined in a powerful way.
For most of us in this room, the online dimension came as an add-on in our lives. We first experienced the real life of play, friendships, faith and profession that we can know and see and feel. Later, the screens brought an additional virtual universe.
But for the majority of children today, that distinction is not relevant: the digital world is simply a part of the world they live in. Learning, playing and interacting with their peers, they move
seamlessly between the virtual and the tangible. The joys and opportunities of life are found both offline and online. And so are the risks and vulnerabilities.
In Sweden, we recently saw the first conviction in a child rape case, where the perpetrator had never actually physically met the victim. The judge acknowledged what child psychologists have long told us: the pain and suffering of a child does not draw a line between on- and off-line.
Child sexual abuse committed online is not less harmful or hurtful than abuse taking place offline.
On the contrary: the fact that abuse is spread on the Internet actually makes the suffering worse.
A young woman who was sexually assaulted and filmed by her father when she was 11, said in a recent interview: “You’re just trying to feel O.K. and not let something like this define your whole life. But the pictures online keep it alive.”
Already in the early days of the World Childhood Foundation I learned about the risks of child sexual abuse and exploitation online.
I learned that if there is a way to use technology for criminal or immoral purposes, then that is what will happen. Because abuse is profitable.
We need to ensure that the pioneers of technology are working to protect our children – not providing new opportunities to exploit them.
For many years now, Childhood has supported the development of tools and solutions to protect children, to identify victims and to stop perpetrators.
One such tool is NetClean solution, which detects child sexual abuse material on computers and in collaboration with law enforcement helps to stop the offenders and rescue the children. In 2003, this was the first and only tool of its kind. Today, it is used in over 110 countries.
Next week, His Majesty and I have invited some of the world’s sharpest minds on Artificial Intelligence and child safety for a Round Table at the Royal Palace in Stockholm. We want to explore how we can accelerate development and the use of technology for good.
Indeed, the digital revolution offers not only a threat, but also a hope to child safety.
However, technology alone cannot solve the issue. All stakeholders - policy makers, companies, civil society and faith-based groups - must come together.
Recently, Childhood USA has co-chaired with Zain Group, the Broadband Commission working group on Child Online Safety. Its report was launched on October 1st at the United Nations and has been endorsed by the commission and many of the experts and companies here.
The report outlines recommendations and a clear roadmap for all stakeholders to deliver on our obligation of child online safety.
Implementing child protection strategies into National Broadband or digital plans is one of its recommendations.
Another is to develop and implement technology driven solutions.
It is promising to see that several of the commissioners representing the governments and private sector are already translating the report’s recommendations into actions.
Ladies and gentlemen. It takes a village to keep a child safe. With the Internet this village is a huge complex ecosystem.
Every part of that ecosystem must be activated – and it all starts with the family and the community.
In this context, the voice of faith-based leaders is extremely important. It reaches local communities in many parts of the world. It stands for guidance, hope and continuity. It also stands for protecting child dignity online and offline.
Religion can and shall offer a place of trust and safety. It should be a safe space, where children are met with love, respect and dignity; where they are listened to.
We all know that it has not always been the case. That is unacceptable.
And while abuse is committed by individuals, it does not happen in a vacuum.
Ladies and gentlemen: Your voices are listened to, your words matter. I ask you today to use those voices: Let children understand that we believe them, that they are not alone, that we will protect them and not the perpetrators
I know sexual abuse and exploitation is not an easy topic to speak about. It is not easy for a Queen – and probably not for Priests and Imams and Rabbies. But if we don’t speak up - who will?
Recent reports in the New York Times have raised public awareness about the many challenges of child abuse online:
- about the consequences of continued “digital” abuse on survivors’ lives,
- the limitations of our legal systems,
- the dramatic increase in the number of images
- and the brutality of the crimes.
The message, I’m afraid, is clear: we are NOT doing enough. Our actions are not en par with the global pandemic. And the companies that provide platforms that enable the abuse need to prioritize child online safety. The Broadband Commission report mentioned earlier provides a framework and a plan of action.
Now, it is up to us to come together.
Let us once again remember why we are here today:
For the child who has suffered abuse.
For the child who is at risk.
For the child who carries guilt and shame.
For this child, we have to speak with one voice and to act, collectively.