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Child abuse: Council of Europe wants to compensate victims

Updated: Mar 26

PRESS RELEASE 26.01.2024


Parliamentary Assembly wants an investigation, an official apology, and reparation payment to European survivors of child abuse in the state or religious institutions


Strasbourg, 26 January 2024 – The Council of Europe, to which 46 states with over 600 million citizens belong, today voted in favor of dealing with past cases of abuse along the lines of Switzerland. Accordingly, the suffering of survivors of child abuse should be officially recognized in the member states, those affected should receive a reparation payment - regardless of any statute of limitations - and a scientific investigation should take place in the respective countries. The Assembly calls on all member States to take stock of the situation of violence committed in public, private, or religious institutions against children to create the right conditions for victims to speak out. The ground-breaking recommendations of the Council of Europe correspond to the demands of the European "Justice Initiative", which was launched by the Swiss Guido Fluri Foundation.


The past cannot be ignored


"Those who ignore the abuse cases of the past cannot effectively combat the abuse cases of today and tomorrow," says the Swiss rapporteur Pierre-Alain Fridez to the Parliament of the Council of Europe. «In Europe, we must never again turn a blind eye to the abuse of children, whether they have been victims of sexual predators, gratuitous violence or ill-treatment in public, private or religious institutions that are supposed to be safe havens. ». This argument convinced the majority. A report on the situation in Europe with clear recommendations was approved today. Like the responsible commission of the Council of Europe, which had already unanimously spoken out in favor of a comprehensive reappraisal, a clear majority in Parliament also wants the cases of abuse in Europe to be reappraised according to the Swiss model; the suffering of the victims should be recognized throughout Europe and reparations should be made in the respective countries. This includes abuse in private, state, and church homes, abuse in care institutions, and forced adoptions.


Reappraisal based on the Swiss model


In Switzerland, a popular initiative, the "Reparation Initiative" of the Guido Fluri Foundation, led to a state law that focuses on the recognition of injustice, scientific reappraisal, and solidarity payments. As a result, over 12,000 survivors of child abuse have received official recognition of the injustice and a solidarity payment, and the cases of abuse have been dealt with by the state.


As a result of this successful reparation, victims' groups and child protection organizations from all over Europe joined forces in the "Justice Initiative" and campaigned for a similar bill at the Council of Europe level. This project was again supported by the Guido Fluri Foundation. "The fact that the Council of Europe has decided on a comprehensive reappraisal is a great moment for survivors from all over Europe! The European community must do everything to ensure that those affected by child abuse receive some form of justice during their lifetime".


The Council of Europe's solution serves as a model


The Council of Europe demands that member states take stock of the situation of child abuse in institutions in our countries (Doc. 15889 - Report - Working document (coe.int). The investigations must be wide-ranging and cover physical, sexual, and psychological abuse. The circumstances enabling such abuse must be assessed on a country-by-country basis and include institutional care in public, private, or religious settings, inadequate care, foster care in private homes, children being removed from parents who are deemed “unfit”, forced adoptions, and forced sterilizations.


The authorities should then recognize the suffering inflicted and offer appropriate care for its effects, if at all possible. This should be followed by a formal, official apology by the authorities to past and present victims.


Lastly, victims must be granted compensation, regardless of their age: there must be official redress for all victims, for all children who have been subjected to any form of physical, sexual, or psychological violence, and without any time limit on the period in which to establish the facts. Accordingly, the length of time between the perpetration of the abuse and its disclosure by the victim may not be a justification for the refusal of any reparation. The amount of compensation awarded must be substantial and commensurate with the harm and suffering that was caused.


States must embark on a comprehensive program of prevention and awareness- raising measures, including monitoring institutional care facilities and any situation in which children are taken into care, to minimise risks and detect problems at the earliest possible stage.


Survivors and child protection groups from across Europe celebrate the Council of Europe's decision


The Council of Europe's decision is an important signal for survivors of abuse from all over Europe. António Grosso, a 71-year-old survivor from Portugal says: “This current silence is unacceptable and unworthy of a democracy like Portugal. If Portugal recognizes this injustice, as the Council of Europe demands, then we are on the right track.”


“Today, 26 January 2024, I am here on a very important date, which gives us recognition and visibility. An advanced society, in the twenty-first century, cannot continue to hide its crimes and neglect the care of its children”, emphasizes Francisco Javier, a 49-year-old Spanish victim. “All forms of sexual violence leave indelible scars. Survivors should receive more justice."Finnish survivor, member of the Our Voice survivor advocacy group.


Politicians and leading child protection organizations are also celebrating the Council of Europe's decision. According to Domagoj Hajduković, a member of the Croatian Parliament and the Croatian delegation at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, “This is a very good resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe because it addresses a very painful problem, which is the abuse of children in institutions.” “Nothing can compensate for the horrors experienced then, the lost childhoods. And the guilt of the state cannot be erased. Compensation is needed. We can no longer put off making peace with the past," said the Romanian USR Senator Irineu Darău.


"The most important thing now is to continue to listen to the experiences of survivors and ensure that the law serves its purpose," says Ann-Kristin Vervik, Secretary General of ECPAT Norway. According to the Director of the Greek Hub of Justice Initiative Angeliki Vergitsi, "The decision of the Council of Europe is important for Greece because institutional care is still the dominant child protection system."


“We stand in solidarity with victims and survivors of childhood sexual abuse and exploitation. We also celebrate the Council of Europe's decision, which reflects a crucial step towards ensuring justice for those who have experienced childhood sexual abuse and exploitation.” Nina Vaaranen-Valkonen, Executive Director from the Finnish child protection organization Suojellaan Lapsia, Protect Children ry.

 

For more information, contact:


Nina Vaaranen-Valkonen

Executive Director - Senior Specialist, Psychotherapist

+358 40 747 8829

Suojellaan Lapsia, Protect Children ry

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