5th Annual Conference of the European Network “Cities for Children” on Media Competence

      Stuttgart, Germany, 6-7 June 2011

      Speech by President Keith Whitmore, President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe

      Dear Mayor of Stuttgart,

      Dear members of the Network, participants of the Conference,


      Ladies and Gentlemen,

      First of all, I would like to thank the organisers for giving me this opportunity to address this 5th Annual Conference of the Cities for Children Network. I would like to thank personally the Mayor of Stuttgart, Dr Wolfgang Schuster, a long-standing and very active member of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities in the Council of Europe, for his commitment to this remarkable endeavour of making European cities a better place for our children.

      As a patron of Cities for Children, the Congress helped to launch this Network and has been following closely your activities ever since. It has been a true pleasure to see it grow over the years into a genuine driving force for innovative action benefiting the youngest members of our society – with more than 70 participating municipalities today.

      For our part, we in the Congress have translated many of your proposals into our own texts, addressed to both national and local authorities – notably our resolution and recommendation entitled “Child in the City”. We particularly called on local authorities to design the built environment from the child’s perspective and to develop “compact” urban communities where housing, schools, child-care facilities, shops and businesses are in close proximity – in other words, to make them more sustainable, in order to counter the urban sprawl and improve social interaction. We made proposals with regard to children’s mobility and measures to reclaim the streets and the public space for children and adults, making them safe and child-friendly. We also made proposals to make the urban environment more family-oriented.

      Many of them found their reflection in the principles for new urban governance, laid down in the new European Urban Charter: Manifesto for a new urbanity, adopted by the Congress three years ago. This Charter, which addresses many aspects of children’s experiences in an urban environment, is our vision of a new model for urban living in a city which is centred on the citizen, which is cohesive and sustainable, which is modern and knowledge-driven. A city which is child-friendly.

      This modern aspect of urban living is to a certain extent the central theme of our conference today. In a high-tech world of today, involving children through modern media is another way of setting them on the path of learning. Learning to communicate. Learning social skills. Learning professional skills, and preparing our children for future employment. Last but least, the use of modern technologies offers new ways for children’s participation in society, and their interaction with both their peers and other generations. As we are moving towards a model of participatory democracy, as the traditional system of representation is increasingly challenged by the elements of direct democracy, and by the need for constant involvement of citizens, the question of children’s participation is also becoming a growing necessity.

      Modern society calls for innovative approaches to involving children, and I am pleased that such innovation was very present in the application for this year’s European Award of Excellence “City for Children”. The Award focused on two important aspects: “Participation of children and adolescents through new media” and “Supervision by parents and educators”, and as a jury member I was very much impressed by the quality of projects brought to our attention. Later today we will of course have an award ceremony to congratulate the winning projects in these two categories.

      Of course, the European Award of Excellence is just one example of the innovative steps taken by the Cities for Children Network. Its success over the years has shown not only the importance and potential of inter-municipal cooperation, of pooling together the resources and knowledge – and, I would add, of the political will – to focus on a specific aspect of living together in the 21st century Europe. The experience of this Network has also demonstrated a formidable capacity to keep up the momentum, to maintain the drive for action and improvement, and to serve as an example and a catalyst for others. It will not be an exaggeration to say that your efforts truly contribute to keeping action for children on the political agenda in Europe.

      In this regard, I am pleased to say that the priorities of the Council of Europe for 2012-2013 include action to protect the dignity and rights of children, drawing on the activities and experience of the long-running Council of Europe programme “Building a Europe for and with children”, and one of its results, the Platform on Children’s Rights. But I would like to stress in particular the current and particular focus of our activities, because I am convinced that your Network can play a major role in these efforts. I am speaking about fighting and preventing violence against children – a vile phenomenon in our societies, which was made even worse by the economic crisis.

      It is indeed tragic that in Europe today, we are witnessing a widespread scourge of child abuse and violence in its different forms – including sexual violence – against these most vulnerable and defenceless members of our society. In the Congress, it is our conviction that local authorities can and must make a difference in creating an environment that would protect children from abuse.

      In October 2009, the Congress adopted its proposals to local and regional authorities as well as governments on measures to combat violence against children. There are some crucial issues in the field of child protection which may come under the remit of regional and local authorities – for example, the regulation and organisation of social and health services, and the adoption of specific quality standards for child-care services. In addition, regional and local governments usually have significant institutional competencies that can be used to balance across their territory the distribution of resources earmarked for the protection of children, by harmonising local needs, resources and priorities with national and international standards.

      We also made proposal regarding networking, monitoring and evaluation, which are especially important at local level as the level closest to children. Finally, local authorities can make sure that children that suffered abuse are accompanied and supported by properly trained counselors, or mediators representing their interests, legal and otherwise, as part of child-friendly judicial procedures which we are seeking to introduce.

      The reason I am mentioning it today is that it is of direct relevance to the activities of your Network which is best placed to propose innovative projects in this regard. The mission of the Cities for Children is all about building a child-friendly environment in our local communities. Such an environment is however unthinkable without being safe and violence-free. These issues are central to the child’s well-being, and your Network, with its experience and resources, can make a substantial and practical contribution to attaining this goal.

      Ladies and Gentlemen,

      At the end of last year, the Council of Europe targeted more precisely its action on preventing violence against children, by launching a “One in Five” campaign to fight their sexual abuse. This form of violence is also the subject of another Council of Europe convention, on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, which entered into force in July last year, and one of the campaign’s objective is to promote the implementation of this convention. Its overall aim, however, is to equip children, their families, specialised care services and societies at large with the knowledge and tools to prevent and report sexual violence against children, thus raising awareness of its extent

      The Congress is coming out in support of this campaign. As our contribution, we will hold a debate at our next session in October on the fight to eradicate sexual abuse of children, under the broader theme of “Living Together in Dignity”. We are inviting towns and cities to share their experience and good practices in providing support, advice and care services to children, and preventing sexual violence against them. I would like to use this occasion to call on your Network and its members to join the campaign and to take action in support of its objectives.

      There is a number of immediate measures that can be taken: making a public commitment to this cause; raising awareness by disseminating information materials, including by adapting the materials already produced by the One in Five campaign – in particular in the structures hosting children and in medical establishments; organising poster campaign and information campaigns in local media; and facilitating the coordination and networking between the existing childcare structures. Needless to say, the measures recommended by the Congress for preventing violence against children are also applicable to sexual violence.

      Ladies and Gentlemen,

      Today’s conference is of course about media competence, which is just one aspect of a better world for children that we are striving to build. But we should never lose sight of a broader picture, a vision of many aspects of the child’s well-being. The quality of any society is judged by its capacity to protect its most vulnerable, which applies first and foremost to children. Even though a child is not yet able to participate in all aspects of society, this does not mean that children occupy a lesser place in society than adults. Even though a child may not yet be a fully-fledged citizen in civic and legal terms, children need a fully-fledged protection of their rights, rights that are no lesser than those of adults.

      As we gather here today, let us reaffirm our commitment to building this society, a better world for children. The Congress of the Council of Europe will continue to support you in your efforts.

      Thank you.

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