In February 2013, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe launched a campaign encouraging the member states’ 200,000 municipal and regional authorities to sign a pact to stop sexual violence against children. The Pact is the main contribution of the Congress to the Council of Europe’s overarching ‘ONE in FIVE’ campaign, which began in 2010 and is based on data that estimates one in five children are victims of some form of sexual violence; its objective is to achieve wider implementation of the Convention on the Protection of Children Against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse. The involvement of local authorities is critical to the campaign’s success because they are responsible for many crucial issues in the field of child protection, such as the regulation of social and health services. An online “pact platform” has also been designed to monitor the progress and initiatives of signatories and will serve as a central repository of good practice.
The Pact is structured around a four-pronged approach of Prevention, Protection, Prosecution and Participation – the four “Ps”: to prevent abuse, protect victims, prosecute perpetrators, and ensure the full participation of children in the entire process.
By signing the Pact, towns and regions commit to the Congress’s general aim of raising awareness of and creating the structures necessary to deal with the issue of sexual violence. However, the Pact offers a broad checklist of recommendations and authorities retain the autonomy to select or adapt the initiatives as appropriate. This allows for context specificity and, perhaps more importantly, for differing economic restrictions. Many of the proposals for actions are very simple and can be implemented at a low cost, for example ‘put a link to the Council of Europe ONE in FIVE website on town’s and region’s homepages’. Therefore, the Pact requires minimal effort and resources in the short term but the overall aim is for local authorities to establish rigorous and sustainable systems, which will inevitably require greater investment.
Raising awareness through education is a central tenet of the Pact and it highlights the many resources that are already available to local authorities, rather than demanding they create their own. The Council of Europe has developed materials for use by decision-makers, advocacy groups and professionals to increase understanding of the issue; local authorities need only print and disseminate this information. The COE has also created resources to empower parents and children to prevent and report sexual violence, for example www.underwearrule.org. Further to this, the Pact encourages local authorities to form partnerships with existing NGOs and private organisations, in order to leverage their knowledge and expertise in this area. Therefore, the emphasis is on greater coordination and cooperation to achieve maximum impact.
The principle of cooperation is manifested in the online “pact platform”. Mr Clemens Lammerskitten, Representative of the Chamber of Regions, in his speech at the 7th Annual Conference of the European Network “Cities for Children” on 13 May, stated:
“Our aim is that this Platform will develop into a rich database of initiatives and policies to combat sexual exploitation and abuse of children that can inform and inspire other towns’, regions’ and associations’ actions.”
Signatories to the Pact can create their own “Pact webpage” and upload information on their current strategies and actions. This will allow local authorities to benefit from sharing best practice, as well as creating a lasting legacy of the Pact.