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Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you Ambassador Skoog and the Swedish Mission to the United Nations, UN Broadband Commission, Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children and Childhood USA for bringing us together.
It is our 5th high-level meeting since the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015. And we have only 11 years to achieve our objective of ending all forms of violence against children.
To talk about those issues like sexual abuse of children, violence against children and child pornography that wasn't so easy 20-25 years ago!
Nobody wanted to hear or to listen, or to speak about it... It was so ugly that nobody could believe that it really happened. It was taboo! I wish we had had the Me Too campaign from today, where children could finally have been listened to and believed. Or Greta - our young climate activist- addressing heads of states right here at the United Nations. Echoing her words she said to the world: "you have stolen my dreams and my childhood!"
UNICEF and child organizations around the world inform us daily with those terrible figures. 200 millions of children are abused, trafficked. Their dreams and childhoods have been stolen. Do we listen to them? Do WE dare? How dare WE NOT!
This year is very special to me. It is the 20th birthday of my “youngest child” - the World Childhood Foundation, an effort I founded to use my voice and position to get attention to the issue of child abuse and exploitation, and to mobilize action by supporting children. I wanted to help abused children heal: to give them back their childhood, but I also wanted to prevent abuse before it happens. Since 1999, Childhood has funded more than 1000 projects in 25 countries, including the US, reaching hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children.
November 20th will mark the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on The Rights of The Child.
In August, we celebrated 50 years since the landing of man on the Moon. What an incredible moment it was, I remember vividly watching TV with my parents, listening to the voice of those brave men. It is difficult to comprehend that 50 years ago we were able to go to the Moon, but we are still struggling to make progress on ending violence and sexual abuse and exploitation of children. Instead we face new challenges, especially misuse of the Internet. Why?
The Internet is only 25 years old and yet we see how it has transformed our lives. It empowers communities and economies. It provides access to education, health, markets and entertainment to millions of children. But like any technology, in the hands of evil people, it becomes an enabler for child abuse and exploitation.
We are here today to discuss the threats and opportunities that connectivity and broadband bring to children and to launch a new report.
I find the new partnerships and collective efforts to address the universal problem of child sexual abuse and exploitation promising. The new commitments of all the stakeholders will help us to reach the goal: a world in which children are free from violence, and no child is left behind.
I am proud of Childhood for pioneering these initiatives. However, the challenges of the Digital World are not new to us. We became involved in fighting child abuse online already in 2003. When Christian Berg – then 26 years old but already one of the founders of NetClean – came to see me to discuss his idea of how to detect Child Sexual Abuse Material on computers, I thought it was important to support him. Today, I am happy we took the risk and I’m happy to see NetClean represented here at this meeting.
Children’s wellbeing is everybody’s business. This is why we all have to come together and make children our priority.
Earlier this year we launched The Economist Intelligence Unit Index: Out of the Shadows: Shining Light on the Response to Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation. The Index, covering 60 countries’ response to this universal scourge, is slowly becoming a universal tool for assessment on how well or poorly countries are fighting sexual violence against children. It permits smart advocacy to encourage better national policies. But more importantly, it shows what the private sector, especially the tech companies, can do to be part of solution.
My daughter and partner in the fight for children’s rights, HRH Princess Madeleine, has previously brought to Childhood the world of social media. This year she also published her first book, Stella’s Secret, a children’s book about the stigma of child abuse and the importance of listening to children. I am very proud of her and grateful to her commitment to Childhood.
20 years ago, Childhood was founded. My hope then was that I could close the foundation after a few years. However, the sexual abuse and exploitation of children remains a major universal problem and Childhood continues to pioneer solutions addressing it. One of them involves the digital world which wasn’t designed with child safety in mind. This must be corrected, and I am proud that Childhood and Zain with partners are spearheading this effort.
Despite the work of Childhood and many other great organizations, UN agencies and governments, child sexual abuse remains a hidden public health epidemic leading to dire consequences later in life, including mental health problems, learning disabilities, increased risk of substance abuse and the perpetuation of violence. However, I am optimistic that the Sustainable Development Goals and new initiatives engaging the private sector and new legal frameworks will help to bring the change we need. The Economist Intelligence Unit Index will help us in this process by measuring the progress and keeping us all accountable and committed to child wellbeing.
In November this year, His Majesty the King and I will be hosting a round table meeting at the Royal Palace in Stockholm to explore how we can use artificial intelligence as a catalyst for child safety online, inviting experts from both Technology, Business and Child Protection.
I continue to believe that the right of children to a childhood free from violence, abuse and exploitation is our collective responsibility. It starts at home, in our families and communities, our schools and in the corporate world.
Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your commitment to children and to ensuring that no child is left behind, online as well as offline.