The Conference “Prevention and Fight against Violence and Sexual Exploitation of Children” was held in Sofia. The event was organized jointly by the Association “Ignored Children”, ECPAT international and the National Network for Children. The conference was attended by 45 experts from Bulgaria and another 12 from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Macedonia, Turkey, Romania and Serbia.
ECPAT is a global network of civil society organizations working against all forms of sexual exploitation of children, with 104 non-governmental organizations from 93 countries. The organization is dealing with all forms of sexual exploitation of children – criminal acts in tourism, prostitution, online exploitation, child marriages, trafficking of children.
The network has a strategic framework of work centered around the victim and its voice, underlined Marie – Laure Lemineur – Executive Director of the organization. ECPAT is advocating the children’s rights among the state institutions. An important part of its work is collecting evidence of sexual exploitation crimes with the purpose of using it in advocacy campaigns.
The idea of the meeting is to bring together experts and members from the region of Southeastern Europe and the Balkans, said Stana Bukovska, Regional Coordinator for Eastern and Central Europe of ECPAT International. The conference is important because it presents the situation in Bulgaria and the region, the diagnosis, the problems and how, as representatives of different institutions, businesses, organizations, NGOs, service providers, from different points of view, we could improve together the situation of children, how we can help the victims.
According to Sanya Saranovic, UNICEF Deputy Representative in Bulgaria, one of the leading partners of ECPAT, the current UNICEF program in Bulgaria has a very strong component in child abuse prevention, including sexual exploitation.
“We are very proud of the “Zone Zakrila” centers in some Bulgarian cities – this is a way of helping the society and the institutions to understand the nature of the problem in order to create a safe environment for children without violence,” said Mrs. Saranovic.
Marie – Laure Lemineur – Deputy CEO of ECPAT, pointed out that the organization has many challenges and presented various examples and statistics (PPTх, 1 MB) that illustrate the main issues. Priority of ECPAT within the Advocacy Strategy is to continue to gather more information and seek better access to images in order to provide more evidence, said Marie-Laure Lemineur.
According to her, ECPAT has demanded access from Interpol to images of child abuse on which to work to identify perpetrators. “We’ve reviewed more than 1 million images, and we have found that the degree of involvement in boys is heavier, as is the case with the youngest victims. The younger the victims are, the stronger the damage is – this can be used in decision-making in police and social services on how to prioritize these images. Most victims are under the age of 12, she said.
Another important for the region data is the photos of the so-called children models. Often police checks show that the agencies that offer them have illegal content. This requires a discussion of the topic.
Another example of ECPAT’s work is the analysis of hotlines where Internet users can report content. There are people at the country level who can look at relevant images and decide whether they are legal and inform the police. “We are working on the assumption that the victims are getting younger, but we can not prove it. Between 2 and 7 percent of the illegal images in the Internet are of very young children”, said Marie-Laure Lemineur.
ECPAT also works with ITU, an international telecommunication union, in which the organization examines how children are influenced by the technology development.
There are also trainings of judges and prosecutors dealing with cases of violence and on how to work with electronic evidence and data collection.
The next year marks the 30th anniversary since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child – this will be an opportunity to organize events, to raise awareness in different parts of society, said Marie-Laure Lemineur. A global thematic report on child abuse will be drafted and ECPAT will present a report outlining the main challenges in combating child violence.
Maya Rusakova, a representative of ECPAT for Eastern Europe, stressed that ECPAT is a real network of organizations that goes from below, members of which are also victims of crime. According to her it is particularly important to collect best practices at the time of local meetings.
The link between migration and sexual exploitation is strong, and this has already been proven, so many projects focus on this issue.
Not enough attention is being paid to cases where children are not a direct victim of exploitation but are witnesses, for example, of exploitation of mothers. This is a gray area that is related to the prevention and analysis of the processes, said Mrs. Rusakova.
A special guest of the event was the chairman of the parliamentary group of GERB and chairman of the Committee on Internal Security and Public Order Tsvetan Tsvetanov.
The biggest danger for children is the Internet, and parents, state institutions and NGOs have to inform children about that, Tsvetan Tsvetanov said. He informed that the most common victims of violence and sexual exploitation are children from low social strata where there is degradation of family values. Children of families with a status over the average are also at risk. Overcoming the consequences of violence and sexual exploitation is extremely difficult, Tsvetan Tsvetanov said. “That is why with such information campaigns we have to reach both – the children and their parents. We need to show good practices and work on prevention, “said Tzvetanov.
According to him, the identification of victims is the key to success in combating this problem.
In his words, in recent years there is a new phenomenon – trafficking of babies and pregnant women who give birth to their children abroad.
“A large part of the children, victims of trafficking and violence, subsequently are perceived not as victims but as criminals. We have always strived to improve legislation and to increase sanctions against the abusers. ”
Tsvetanov also pointed out that a major challenge for state law authorities is the increased migration. “According to the UN High Commission for Refugees, over 34 million children under the age of 20 have been trafficked.”
In his words, a dialogue with the most vulnerable groups is needed, but it is hampered because sometimes they perceive the authorities of the Ministry of Interior as a repressive apparatus and do not share their own problems.
Georgi Bogdanov, an Executive Director of the National Network for Children, addressed Tsvetan Tsvetanov, and stressed that one of the major aims for recently established national platform “Childhood without Violence”, which Network for Children coordinates, is to introduce the “INSPIRE: Seven strategies for Ending Violence Against Children” package in Bulgaria and to work for Bulgaria to be included in the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children. “In this regard, we are looking for a political leader to engage with the topic and the Global Partnership. We hope to find a partner in the government”, Mr. Bogdanov said.
Tsvetan Tsvetanov answered that child abuse is an important topic for society, and he will commit to providing government support for the Global Partnership. The benefit of this initiative is also the attraction of public leaders and MEPs, Tsvetanov stressed.
Mihail Okoliyski, a representative of the World Health Organization for Bulgaria, presented the international package „INSPIRE“ (PPTx, 5 MB). The project is supported by the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank and other organizations and institutions. Its main message is that violence against children can be prevented and the “INSPIRE” package presents 7 strategies to help countries reduce violence against children which are practical examples of implementing various measures and strategies.
A workgroup with the participation of NNC has prepared the translation of the whole “INSPIRE” package which will be widely promoted in Bulgaria. A roadmap will also be developed to identify future financing and lobbying needs, Mr. Okolyyski said.
The information is particularly important, evidence is needed to develop policies for prevention and protection, Okolyyski said.
The data shows that one in four children was subjected to physical violence, 1 out of 5 girls were subjected to sexual violence at least once. The lifetime impact on children’s health can be devastating – violence can have physical and mental consequences.
In his words, the problem in the Balkan countries is rooted in rapid social changes, economic and gender inequalities, poverty.
Georgi Apostolov from Safenet Center presented the national platform Childhood Without Violence. The coalition is formed by 19 civil organizations and is coordinated by the National Network for Children.
“Next year we mark the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It has proved its worth. Now the world seems to go back”, said Mr. Apostolov. According to him there is infiltration of ideologies that violate human rights. “This has an impact on public discourse – we had problems with the ratification of the Istanbul Convention. There are politicians who speak the language of hatred. Hate is the first step towards endangering and destroying democratic values. In this environment children are in ever greater danger. That’s why we created the platform against violence. Every child must grow without violence, but this can be done only with the active work of civil society. Campaigns, strong messages are needed. We need to be on the street, we need more visible regional events. We should not be locked up in our professional community and we should not act as firefighters, but as leaders, for now we are losing the battle. We must be united in the sharing of resources and good practices”, said Mr. Apostolov.
Young people in alternative care need adequate support when they reach adulthood and get ready to start independent lives. Care professionals play a key role in empowering young people for their futures. The two-year project ‘Prepare for Leaving Care – A Child Protection System that Works for Professionals and Young People’ aims to help build the capacities of care professionals so they can better integrate a child rights approach into their work.
The project aims to ensure that the rights of young people in alternative care are respected and that they are prepared for an independent life. Led by SOS Children's Villages International and supported by associate partnership of Eurochild, the project builds on the experience of 'Training of Care Professionals', and specifically addresses the rights and needs of young people on their way to adulthood and independence.
The project is carried out in cooperation with SOS Children’s Villages’ national associations in Croatia, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania and Spain, as well as experts from CELCIS and Eurochild.
Key expected outcomes
A ‘Leaving Care Toolkit’ is developed, including a training methodology and manual based on evidence collected in five EU countries. The toolkit will aim to provide practical guidance to care professionals and a range of front line practitioners. The main focus will be on how to best plan the transition to independence with and for young people and support them during and after the leaving care process.
Through a ‘train the trainers’ approach, master trainers are empowered to apply the developed tools and methodology widely in all five participating countries.
400 care professionals receive training on how to embed a child rights based approach into their daily work.
National policy guidelines are elaborated to raise awareness and push for the development of a comprehensive Leaving Care Framework. Based on learnings from project activities, these guidelines will define how training can be integrated into existing frameworks.
Participation of young experts
The participation of young people with first-hand experience in alternative care is central to the success of this project. Young experts, aged 16-27, from all five participating countries are providing input throughout all activities, drawing on their personal experience and the challenges they have encountered when they got ready to leave care.
This two-year project is co-funded by the Rights, Equality and Citizenship (REC) Programme of the European Union (2017-2018).
How to plan and implement reform in child protection and child welfare system
This University of Central Lancashire 5 day masterclass will provide a theoretical and practical guide to analysing and reforming child protection systems in high, middle and low-income countries. The tutors (David Tobis and Andy Bilson) will be joined by leaders in child protection reform from Better Care Network, Family for Every Child, Hope and Homes for Children and UNICEF to present a series of case studies of systems change in different countries using different strategies including top down, bottom up, middle out and when regimes change.
Systemic and sociological theories will provide a framework to understand the operation of systems and identify, plan, implement and evaluate strategies for change. The sociological theories focus on issues of power and culture and indicate the need for a countervailing force to bring about institutionalized change such as the empowerment of parents, communities or other constituencies. Systemic practice stresses the need to understand and challenge the assumptions that lead to harmful patterns of response to children and families. The approach involves reflexive conversations involving engagement, emotion and explanation. Participants will also explore effective use of information and research for system change.
Participants will prepare for the 5 day programme through exercises to reflect on their experience of child protection reform. You will work in small groups to consider processes of change relevant to your cultural and country context. During the 5 day programme you will identify an area of reform, produce an analysis of this area and a plan for system reform. You will receive consultancy on your plan from other participants and trainers during the programme. After the 5 day programme, you will also have time allocated for consultancy from a trainer, to be used within 3 months, to assist with the implementation of your plan.