I can think of no greater task than the challenge of protecting our children from violence.  Indeed, protection of our young is one of the most basic of all our instincts – not only of our own species but of virtually all higher animals. And yet we have before us the United Nations Secretary-General’s Study on Violence against Children which indicates unambiguously our enormous failure in carrying out this most basic responsibility.  We have already heard further details in this regard from the speakers who have preceded me.

It is, perhaps, difficult for us, gathered in this most civilised, tolerant and humane of cities, to imagine the scale of violence that is being perpetrated against children at this very moment.  While we have been meeting here this afternoon – throughout the world:

However, the problem goes far further than immediate physical violence and exploitation.  Billions of children also suffer the crippling effects of poverty – which is often accompanied by violence – and which in its own way can do almost as much harm.

All this is happening while we have been meeting this afternoon in Amsterdam.   The questions that we must consider are these:

What are we going to do about it?

What can we do about it?

In the first place, we must not despair.  The wonderful thing about human beings is that

we do have the ability to imagine better worlds;

we do have the ability to reform systems and practises that are unacceptable; we do have the capacity to change.

This was proved by the great reformers of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries who led global and national campaigns to abolish slavery; to end child labour and to reform prisons.  The process usually involved mass mobilisation through the dissemination of information.  It involved the establishment of committees and pressure groups.  It required persistence and perseverance.  It was often supported by great reforming writers – like Charles Dickens, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Emil Zola.  Despite all the obstacles and opposition that they encountered, their actions ultimately culminated in reform legislation and the abolition of unacceptable practices.

Now in most first world countries we have legislation that provides children with the necessary protection.  The challenge in those countries is to ensure that such legislation works in practice.

We also have the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child – which is supposed to protect children from exploitation, abuse and violence.   Article 19 (1) of the Convention is quite explicit about child violence.  It says that

“ States parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in care of parents, legal guardians or any other person who has the care of the child.”

Virtually all of the 194 countries of the world are signatories to the treaty.

What part of Article 19 (1) do they not understand?

Why are so many of them so clearly failing in their self-accepted duty to protect children?

Our challenge now is to translate the values and goals – that we all supposedly accept in the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child – into reality.  We must increasingly hold the countries of the world accountable to carry out their clear responsibilities in terms of the Convention.

As in the past, social mobilisation and publicity will play a central role in this task.  And that is what we are all doing here this afternoon in Amsterdam.  We are sending out a message to the world that the abuse of children is unacceptable in any form.   We are honouring a brave boy who has taken the lead in combating child labour in his country.

We are sending a message that we can make a difference and that we can help to build a better, kinder and more humane world.

Above all, we are reminding ourselves of one of our most basic and natural instincts – our over-riding duty to protect our young.


(Reads the citation)