A game-changing moment that must not be missed: The first Global Ministerial Conference to End Violence Against Children

A game-changing moment that must not be missed: The first Global Ministerial Conference to End Violence Against Children

A blog by Brave co-founder Mie Kohiyama

As a survivor of childhood sexual violence, I know the impact of gaps in policy and practice to protect children. As a survivor and activist, I know that sexual violence is a global health emergency, from my own health experience to those of my peers and fellow survivors. As a campaigner and an activist, I know that the first-ever  Global Ministerial Conference on Violence against Children to end violence against children is a potential game changer, an opportunity for the world to come together, to be brave, bold and protect children so what happened to me does not happen to them, ever.

In this context, I participated in the 77th session of the World Health Assembly in Geneva. I spoke at the high-level event to start the political mobilization ahead of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to mobilize action to keep children safe.

The Ministerial, which will take place in Bogota, Colombia, on November 7th and 8th, will be hosted by the Governments of Colombia and Sweden, in collaboration with WHO, UNICEF, and the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Ending Violence against Children. The event’s historic nature and potential impact are reasons the Brave Movement is providing support to mobilize action and awareness around it.

The high-level side event started with the Governments of Colombia and Sweden setting out their ambition for the global ministerial conference. Ambassador Gustavo Gallon from Colombia spoke of how a world free from violence is possible and essential to achieving sustainable development. He set out the ambition for this conference to catalyse transformative change.

Ambassador Anna Jardfelt from Sweden followed by highlighting how their long-standing commitment to ending violence against children has proven time and again how children can excel in other areas of their lives if they are not affected by violence. She also noted that “human rights also exist online” how online violence is of critical importance, and the importance of protecting the most vulnerable children.

As the only public survivor speaking on the panel, I was up next and took the opportunity to share my experience and expertise. To highlight the harsh realities of what it means to have experienced violence as a child, and to call for urgent action at the Ministerial. I consider myself fortunate to even be able to speak in front of the World Health Assembly due to the health impact of child sexual violence, with survivors being at a higher risk of dying prematurely before 50 years old whether it is because of harmful physical or mental health, or unfortunately because of suicide.

I’m 52 years old. I was raped when I was 5 by an adult cousin. I had 32 years of repressed memory and suffered PTSD when memories of the rape surged. I was also affected by well-documented impacts of child sexual violence: anorexia, school phobia, depression and addiction.  I shared this with the Assembly to underline that child sexual violence is a major health issue, with a tremendous cost on children, the adults they become, and societies as a whole.

I also used my opportunity to call for the creation of national survivors councils in every country, based on the inspiring German model, and for governments to commit to this at the Ministerial. The survivor’s councils would enable survivors to participate in shaping public policies to fight child sexual violence. Further, I noted the importance of considering child sexual violence online as a priority issue. Each second at least three images or videos of child sexual violence are shared online. Survivors of these crimes are being retraumatized each time these images are shared. Children’s rights must be guaranteed online and the internet must be better regulated.

After my remarks, I was delighted to pass the floor to Zewelanji, a youth activist from Zambia who spoke to the reality of so many children today who are experiencing a wide range of violence in a school setting and early forced marriage. She made a powerful plea “ Why are children suffering sexual violence at the hands of their parents? All children must be safe from sexual violence!”

There were then some important framing remarks by the other co-hosts, UNICEF and the WHO. UNICEF noted its role in facilitating the National Preparatory Process, which will set out the national pledges and commitments and the core transformative content that will come out of the conference. Survivors are keen to engage in these processes to ensure their expertise and experiences inform future plans.  WHO spoke about the priority outcomes of the conference, including noting that CSOs, survivors, children and youth are primary actors.

To that end, the Brave Movement has developed some best practice guidelines for the global Ministerial conference.

In the discussions after the panel, there was a significant focus on how violence is preventable, there is evidence and solutions. But while these exist, at the same time violence against children continues to plague every corner of our world. We need more political commitment, we need more funding for violence prevention and we need more cross-sectoral collaboration, to fight against impunity which enables these crimes to continue.

So I say again, this Ministerial can be a game changer: we must not miss this historic opportunity to protect children.