#ChildDignity 2017 Conference

#ChildDignity 2017 Conference

Fr Hans Zollner SJ, President Centre for Child Protection, Pontifical Gregorian University, is a leading anti-abuse expert, a theologian and a psychiatrist. Here he explains why his Centre for Child Protection, Rome, is hosting a conference on protecting children in the digital world. You can read an interview he has given about the Conference here.

You can read the final Declaration of Rome at the bottom of this page.

Children and adolescents make up over a quarter of the more than 3.2 billion Internet users worldwide. This generation of over 800 million young users is in danger of becoming victims of sextortion, sexting, cyberbullying and harassment. This global problem calls for a global solution. We need an open and thorough discussion to build awareness, and to mobilize action for a better protection of minors online.

Child Dignity in the Digital World’ is the first world congress of its kind that brings together key stakeholders and international leaders from all relevant areas.

This pioneering congress hosted by the Centre for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome sets a milestone in the international fight against digital sexual child abuse.

The invitation-only congress brings together distinguished academic experts, business leaders, leaders of civil society, high-level politicians and religious representatives from across the globe. This provides a historic opportunity to set the global agenda for the fight against online sexual child abuse and for child protection in the digital world.

Follow #ChildDignity to receive the latest tweets about the congress.

The schedule for the conference is at the bottom of this page, and each talk has been hyperlinked so you can see that talk on their Youtube channel. Click on the emboldened name of the speaker to go directly to listen to their talk.

Baroness Sheila Hollins and Dr. Thomas Gauly have also synthesized the comments from the participants of the conference.


Press Statement

Over 30 speeches, technical reports and a series of workshops have been delivered by experts, Church and political leaders to develop a strategy that will take on the work of the Congress on Child Dignity in the Digital World, which has taken place this week at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

President Grasso, president of the Italian Senate, and Minister Valeria Fedeli, Italian minister of education, university and research, State Secretary Cornelia Quennet Thielen of the German federal ministry of education and research addressed the 150 delegates, who included ambassadors, representatives from the United Nations, the Council of Europe and other supranational bodies.

In addition to presentations of technical and academic research, Dr Tim Morris, executive director police services Interpol, put forward the perspective from law enforcement and Dr Antigone Davis, head of global safety policy Facebook, and Microsoft chief online safety officer Jacqueline Beauchere how leading tech providers were engaging with safeguarding and the emerging threats to children.

Some of the emerging themes included how the epidemiology of child exploitation and abuse offered new ways of tackling online victimisation, as presented by Prof Michelle Anne Williams from Harvard University; the long-term effects on the brains of children through exposure to online pornography; the responsibilities of different stakeholders as society struggles to balance freedom and safeguarding responsibilities. These issues have taken on increased urgency as delegates were told that in India alone 500 million people will go online for the first time over the next couple of years. Perspectives from the developing world were also offered from Africa and Asia by Cardinal John Njue and Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle


Child Dignity in the Digital World

World Congress

October 3-6, 2017

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

16.00 World Congress Registration

18.00 WELCOME

            Fr. Hans Zollner SJ (Germany), President of the Centre for Child Protection (Italy)
            World Congress Chairperson Welcome
           
Child Dignity in the Digital World – Welcome and Outlook of the Congress
            – Download Text

            Fr. Nuno da Silva Gonçalves SJ (Portugal), Rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University (Italy)

            Fr. Arturo Sosa Abascal SJ (Venezuela), Superior General of the Society of Jesus (Italy)
           
Respecting and Protecting the Dignity of Children: A Priority for the Society of Jesus
            – Download Text

            Minister Valeria Fedeli (Italy), Minister of Education, University and Research (Italy)

            President Pietro Grasso (Italy), President of the Italian Senate (Italy)

18.45 OUTLINE OF THE CONGRESS PROGRAMME

            Prof. Ernesto Caffo (Italy), Scientific Coordinator of the World Congress Child Dignity in the
           
Digital World 2017; University of Modena and Reggio Emilia; Founder and President SOS Il
           
Telefono Azzurro Onlus (Italy)

19.00 KEYNOTE ADDRESSES

            H.E. Card. Pietro Parolin (Italy), Secretary of State (Holy See)
           
The Holy See and Its Commitment to Combatting Sex Abuse Online
            – Download Text

            The Rt. Hon. Baroness Joanna Shields (US), Her Majesty’s Government of the United Kingdom,
            Founder of WePROTECT (UK)
            – Download Text


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

09.00 1st SESSION

           Child Sexual Abuse Online: What the Research Shows

            Chairperson: Ms. Maud de Boer Buquicchio (Netherlands), UN Special Rapporteur
            on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography (Switzerland)

09.15 Prof. Michelle Anne Williams (US), Harvard University (US)
           
Epidemiology of Child Maltreatment: What The Data Show by Region. What We Know
           
About Online Victimization.

09.45 Dr. Janis Wolak (US), University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center (US)
           
Key Findings of the Us National Juvenile Online Victimization Studies. How Serious Is
           
The Problem? Who Are the Victims?

09.55 Dr. Tim Morris (Australia), Executive Director Police Services, Interpol (Australia)
           
From A Global Law Enforcement Perspective, What Do We Know? How Serious Is the Problem?
           
How Prepared Is Law Enforcement? Where Are There Gaps in Our Knowledge?

10.05 Dr. Dorothy Rozga (US), Executive Director, ECPAT International (Thailand)
           
From The Perspective of a Global NGO, What Do We Know? How Serious Is the Problem?
           
Where Are There Gaps in Our Knowledge? Is Civil Society Prepared to Address This Problem?

10.15 Coffee break

10.30 Child Sexual Abuse Online: Who Are the Offenders?
           
Chairperson: Prof. Ernesto Caffo (Italy), Scientific Coordinator of the World Congress Child Dignity
           
in the Digital World 2017; University of Modena and Reggio Emilia; Founder and President SOS Il
            Telefono 
Azzurro Onlus (Italy)

10.40 Dr. Michael Seto (Canada), Royal Ottawa Health Care Group (Canada)
           
Overview of Online Sex Offending. Online Offender Characteristics.
           
The Connection Between Online and Contact Offending. Risk Assessment

11.10 Prof. Ethel Quayle (UK), University of Edinburgh (UK)
           
Child Pornography, Who Are the Offenders? Why Do They Do It?
           
Technology Mediated Offenses Online, What The Research Shows

11.20 Dr. Elizabeth J. Letourneau (US), John Hopkins University (US)
           
Preventing Online Offending. What Have We Learned About Clinical Interventions With
           
Youth and Adult Sex Offending Behaviors?

11.30 Dr. Sharon Cooper (US), University of North Carolina (US)
           
The Harm to Children in Online Child Sexual Exploitation. Why Children Don’t Tell?
           
How Can We Intervene Sooner and More Effectively?

11.40 Break

          Internet Pornography and Its Impact on Children

11.55 Chairperson: H.E. Dr. Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini Zuma (South Africa)
            Former Chairperson African Union Commission

12.05 Prof. Arne Dekker (Germany), University of Hamburg (Germany)
           
Sexual Violence And Digital Media. A Sociological Perspective

12.40 Dr. Donald Hilton Jr. (US), University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio (US)
           
Pornography and the Developing Brain: Protecting the Children

12.55 Dr. Mary Anne Layden (US), University of Pennsylvania (US)
           
Pornography and Violence. The Long-Term Effects of Pornography Use

13.05-14.30 Lunch Buffet

14.30 WORKSHOP 1

16.00 Coffee break

16.30 WORKSHOP 2


Thursday, October 5, 2017

09.00 2nd SESSION

            Child Sexual Abuse Online: What Can We Do About

            Chairperson: Dr. Ernie Allen (US), Chair, International Advisory Board WePROTECT Global
           
Alliance (UK)

09.15 Prof. David Finkelhor (US), University of New Hampshire (US)
           
Protecting and Empowering Children in the Digital Age

09.45 Dr. Antigone Davis (US), Head of Global Safety Policy, Facebook (US)
           
How The World’s Largest Social Media Site Is Confronting These Challenges
           
How We Can Empower Kids to Recognize and Respond to These Threats

09.55 Dr. Jasmina Byrne (Ireland), UNICEF Innocenti (Italy)
           
Key Findings of the Global Kids Online Research by UNICEF Innocenti

10.05 Jutta Croll M.A. (Germany), Chairperson of Stiftung Digitale Chancen (Germany)
           
What Are the Grey Areas of Abusive Online Content? How Does This Type of Content Infringe
            Children’s Rights and Dignity? How to Address the Grey Areas?

10.15 Coffee break

10.30

          International Politics and Law regarding child sexual abuse

            Chairperson: Prof. Benyam Dawit Mezmur (Ethiopia) Member of the UN Committee on the Rights of
            the Child and Chairperson of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child
            of the African Union

10.40 Cornelia Quennet-Thielen (Germany), State Secretary Federal Ministry of Education and Research
           
(Germany) How to Protect Children in The Digital World – The Contribution of Politics, Research
            and Education

11.10 Elda Moreno (Spain), Council of Europe – Head of the Children’s Rights and Sport Values Department
            – DGII – Directorate of Human Dignity and Equality (France) 
Reaching Full Potential: Council of
            Europe Standards for The Protection of Children from Sexual Violence

11.25 Cornelius Williams (Sierra Leone), UNICEF – Associate Director & Global Chief of Child Protection
           
Tackling Online Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation: UNICEF’s Approach (US)

11.40 Break

11.55
            Bringing Together The Key Players: The Role of Companies, Media,
            Society and the Church

            Chairperson: Dr. Thomas Gauly (Germany), CEO Gauly Strategy & Consulting AG (Germany)

12.05 Ms. Jacqueline Beauchere (US), Chief Online Safety Officer, Microsoft, Inc. (US)
           
How Do Internet Providers and Software Developers Define Their Responsibility and Limits
           
Of Cooperation Regarding Safeguarding of Minors

12.20 Dr. Mario Calvo-Platero (Italy), Journalist (US)
           
Media and Its Responsibility in Building Awareness

12.35 Dr. Nighat Dad (Pakistan), (Digital Rights Foundation – Executive Director – Pakistan)
           
Drawing a Line Between Freedom of Speech and Content Control Online

12.50 H.E. Card. John Njue (Kenya), Archbishop of Nairobi (Kenya)
           
Safeguarding Minors in the Developing World: The African Perspective

13.05 H.E. Card. Luis Antonio Tagle (Philippines), Archbishop of Manila (Philippines)
           
Safeguarding Minors in the Developing World: The Asian Perspective

13.20 Fr. Paolo Benanti OFM TOR (Italy), Pontifical Gregorian University (Italy)
           
Ethical Governance in the Digital Age

13.35-14.30 Lunch Buffet

14.30 WORKSHOP 3

15.30

          PRESENTATION OF THE FINAL DECLARATION TO ATTENDEES

            The Rt. Hon. Baroness Joanna Shields (US), Her Majesty’s Government of the United
           
Kingdom, founder of WePROTECT (UK)

15.45 How Foundations, Philanthropists and NGOs Can Mobilize the World to Better
            Protect Children Online.

            Ms. Mary Healy (Ireland), Executive Director Human Dignity Foudation (Switzerland)

            Mr. Christopher Chuang (China), Co-founder and Chairman of the Aurora Borealis
           
Foundation (China)

            Dr. Thomas Gauly (Germany), Vice Chairman of the Clariant Foundation (Switzerland)

16.15 Synthesis of the World Congress
           
Baroness Sheila Hollins and Dr. Thomas Gauly

17.00 Final Announcements Fr. Hans Zollner SJ


Friday, October 6, 2017

12.00 PAPAL AUDIENCE with presentation of the Final Document to the Holy Father

            Rector of the Gregorian’s Speech

            Summary of the Declaration

            Declaration of Rome

Pope Francis addressed the participants in the World Congress on Child Dignity in the Digital World. Hosted by the Pontifical Gregorian University and its Centre for Child Protection, the four-day event brought together different government and police representatives, software companies, religious leaders and medical experts specialized in the impact of on-line abuse. Below, please find the full text of Pope Francis’ prepared remarks, in their official English translation.

***********************************************

Your Eminences,
President of the Senate, Madame Minister,
Your Excellencies, Father Rector,
Distinguished Ambassadors and Civil Authorities,
Dear Professors, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I thank the Rector of the Gregorian University, Father Nuno da Silva Gonçalves, and the young lady representative of the youth for their kind and informative words of introduction to our meeting.  I am grateful to all of you for being here this morning and informing me of the results of your work.  Above all, I thank you for sharing your concerns and your commitment to confront together, for the sake of young people worldwide, a grave new problem felt in our time.  A problem that had not yet been studied and discussed by a broad spectrum of experts from various fields and areas of responsibility as you have done in these days: the problem of the effective protection of the dignity of minors in the digital world.

The acknowledgment and defense of the dignity of the human person is the origin and basis of every right social and political order, and the Church has recognized the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) as “a true milestone on the path of moral progress of humanity” (cf. JOHN PAUL II, Addresses to the United Nations Organization, 1979 and 1995).  So too, in the knowledge that children are among those most in need of care and protection, the Holy See received the Declaration on the Rights of the Child (1959) and adhered to the relative Convention (1990) and its two optional protocols (2001).  The dignity and rights of children must be protected by legal systems as priceless goods for the entire human family (cf. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Nos. 244-245).

While completely and firmly agreed on these principles, we must work together on their basis.  We need to do this decisively and with genuine passion, considering with tender affection all those children who come into this world every day and in every place.  They need our respect, but also our care and affection, so that they can grow and achieve all their rich potential.

Scripture tells us that man and woman are created by God in his own image.  Could any more forceful statement be made about our human dignity?  The Gospel speaks to us of the affection with which Jesus welcomes children; he takes them in his arms and blesses them (cf. Mk 10:16), because “it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs” (Mt 19:14).  Jesus’ harshest words are reserved for those who give scandal to the little ones: “It were better for them to have a great millstone fastened around their neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Mt 18:6).  It follows that we must work to protect the dignity of minors, gently yet firmly, opposing with all our might the throwaway culture nowadays that is everywhere apparent, to the detriment especially of the weak and the most vulnerable, such as minors.

We are living in a new world that, when we were young, we could hardly have imagined.  We define it by two simple words as a “digital world”, but it is the fruit of extraordinary achievements of science and technology.  In a few decades, it has changed the way we live and communicate.  Even now, it is in some sense changing our very way of thinking and of being, and profoundly influencing the perception of our possibilities and our identity.

If, on the one hand, we are filled with real wonder and admiration at the new and impressive horizons opening up before us, on the other, we can sense a certain concern and even apprehension when we consider how quickly this development has taken place, the new and unforeseen problems it sets before us, and the negative consequences it entails.  Those consequences are seldom willed, and yet are quite real.  We rightly wonder if we are capable of guiding the processes we ourselves have set in motion, whether they might be escaping our grasp, and whether we are doing enough to keep them in check.

This is the great existential question facing humanity today, in light of a global crisis at once environmental, social, economic, political, moral and spiritual.

As representatives of various scientific disciplines and the fields of digital communications, law and political life, you have come together precisely because you realize the gravity of these challenges linked to scientific and technical progress.  With great foresight, you have concentrated on what is probably the most crucial challenge for the future of the human family: the protection of young people’s dignity, their healthy development, their joy and their hope.

We know that minors are presently more than a quarter of the over 3 billion users of the internet; this means that over 800 million minors are navigating the internet. We know that within two years, in India alone, over 500 million persons will have access to the internet, and that half of these will be minors.  What do they find on the net?  And how are they regarded by those who exercise various kinds of influence over the net?

We have to keep our eyes open and not hide from an unpleasant truth that we would rather not see.  For that matter, surely we have realized sufficiently in recent years that concealing the reality of sexual abuse is a grave error and the source of many other evils?  So let us face reality, as you have done in these days.  We encounter extremely troubling things on the net, including the spread of ever more extreme pornography, since habitual use raises the threshold of stimulation; the increasing phenomenon of sexting between young men and women who use the social media; and the growth of online bullying, a true form of moral and physical attack on the dignity of other young people.  To this can be added sextortion; the solicitation of minors for sexual purposes, now widely reported in the news; to say nothing of the grave and appalling crimes of online trafficking in persons, prostitution, and even the commissioning and live viewing of acts of rape and violence against minors in other parts of the world.  The net has its dark side (the “dark net”), where evil finds ever new, effective and pervasive ways to act and to expand.  The spread of printed pornography in the past was a relatively small phenomenon compared to the proliferation of pornography on the net.  You have addressed this clearly, based on solid research and documentation, and for this we are grateful.

Faced with these facts, we are naturally alarmed.  But, regrettably, we also remain bewildered.  As you know well, and are teaching us, what is distinctive about the net is precisely that it is worldwide; it covers the planet, breaking down every barrier, becoming ever more pervasive, reaching everywhere and to every kind of user, including children, due to mobile devices that are becoming smaller and easier to use.  As a result, today no one in the world, or any single national authority, feels capable of monitoring and adequately controlling the extent and the growth of these phenomena, themselves interconnected and linked to other grave problems associated with the net, such as illicit trafficking, economic and financial crimes, and international terrorism.  From an educational standpoint too, we feel bewildered, because the speed of its growth has left the older generation on the sidelines, rendering extremely difficult, if not impossible, intergenerational dialogue and a serene transmission of rules and wisdom acquired by years of life and experience.

But we must not let ourselves be overcome by fear, which is always a poor counsellor.  Nor let ourselves be paralyzed by the sense of powerlessness that overwhelms us before the difficulty of the task before us.  Rather, we are called to join forces, realizing that we need one another in order to seek and find the right means and approaches needed for effective responses.  We must be confident that “we can broaden our vision.  We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology; we can put it at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral” (Laudato Si’, 112).

For such a mobilization to be effective, I encourage you to oppose firmly certain potentially mistaken approaches.  I will limit myself to indicating three of these.

The first is to underestimate the harm done to minors by these phenomena.  The difficulty of countering them can lead us to be tempted to say: “Really, the situation is not so bad as all that…”   But the progress of neurobiology, psychology and psychiatry have brought to light the profound impact of violent and sexual images on the impressionable minds of children, the psychological problems that emerge as they grow older, the dependent behaviours and situations, and genuine enslavement that result from a steady diet of provocative or violent images.  These problems will surely have a serious and life-long effect on today’s children.

Here I would add an observation.  We rightly insist on the gravity of these problems for minors.  But we can also underestimate or overlook the extent that they are also problems for adults.  Determining the age of minority and majority is important for legal systems, but it is insufficient for dealing with other issues.  The spread of ever more extreme pornography and other improper uses of the net not only causes disorders, dependencies and grave harm among adults, but also has a real impact on the way we view love and relations between the sexes.  We would be seriously deluding ourselves were we to think that a society where an abnormal consumption of internet sex is rampant among adults could be capable of effectively protecting minors.

The second mistaken approach would be to think that automatic technical solutions, filters devised by ever more refined algorithms in order to identify and block the spread of abusive and harmful images, are sufficient to deal with these problems.  Certainly, such measures are necessary. Certainly, businesses that provide millions of people with social media and increasingly powerful, speedy and pervasive software should invest in this area a fair portion of their great profits.  But there is also an urgent need, as part of the process of technological growth itself, for all those involved to acknowledge and address the ethical concerns that this growth raises, in all its breadth and its various consequences.

Here we find ourselves having to reckon with a third potentially mistaken approach, which consists in an ideological and mythical vision of the net as a realm of unlimited freedom. Quite rightly, your meeting includes representatives of lawmakers and law enforcement agencies whose task is to provide for and to protect the common good and the good of individual persons.  The net has opened a vast new forum for free expression and the exchange of ideas and information.  This is certainly beneficial, but, as we have seen, it has also offered new means for engaging in heinous illicit activities, and, in the area with which we are concerned, for the abuse of minors and offences against their dignity, for the corruption of their minds and violence against their bodies.  This has nothing to do with the exercise of freedom; it has to do with crimes that need to be fought with intelligence and determination, through a broader cooperation among governments and law enforcement agencies on the global level, even as the net itself is now global.

You have been discussing all these matters and, in the “Declaration” you presented me, you have pointed out a variety of different ways to promote concrete cooperation among all concerned parties working to combat the great challenge of defending the dignity of minors in the digital world.  I firmly and enthusiastically support the commitments that you have undertaken.

These include raising awareness of the gravity of the problems, enacting suitable legislation, overseeing developments in technology, identifying victims and prosecuting those guilty of crimes.  They include assisting minors who have been affected and providing for their rehabilitation, assisting educators and families, and finding creative ways of training young people in the proper use of the internet in ways healthy for themselves and for other minors.  They also include fostering greater sensitivity and providing moral formation, as well as continuing scientific research in all the fields associated with this challenge.

Very appropriately, you have expressed the hope that religious leaders and communities of believers can also share in this common effort, drawing on their experience, their authority and their resources for education and for moral and spiritual formation.  In effect, only the light and the strength that come from God can enable us to face these new challenges.  As for the Catholic Church, I would assure you of her commitment and her readiness to help.  As all of us know, in recent years the Church has come to acknowledge her own failures in providing for the protection of children: extremely grave facts have come to light, for which we have to accept our responsibility before God, before the victims and before public opinion.  For this very reason, as a result of these painful experiences and the skills gained in the process of conversion and purification, the Church today feels especially bound to work strenuously and with foresight for the protection of minors and their dignity, not only within her own ranks, but in society as a whole and throughout the world.  She does not attempt to do this alone – for that is clearly not enough – but by offering her own effective and ready cooperation to all those individuals and groups in society that are committed to the same end.  In this sense, the Church adheres to the goal of putting an end to “the abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children” set by the United Nations in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (Target 16.2).

On many occasions, and in many different countries, I gaze into the eyes of children, poor and rich, healthy and ill, joyful and suffering.  To see children looking us in the eye is an experience we have all had.  It touches our hearts and requires us to examine our consciences.  What are we doing to ensure that those children can continue smiling at us, with clear eyes and faces filled with trust and hope?  What are we doing to make sure that they are not robbed of this light, to ensure that those eyes will not be not darkened and corrupted by what they will find on the internet, which will soon be so integral and important a part of their daily lives?

Let us work together, then, so that we will always have the right, the courage and the joy to be able to look into the eyes of the children of our world.


The Declaration of Rome

World Congress: Child Dignity in the Digital World

6 October 2017

Summary

Holy Father, I am honored to present to you the Declaration of Rome, adopted by the participants in the first World Congress “Child Dignity in the Digital World,” convened this week at the Pontifical Gregorian University. I offer this historic document to you on behalf of millions of young people around the world who need information and far more protection from the risks of sexual and other forms of abuse on the internet.

Using your own words, we believe that — “A society can be judged by the way it treats its children.”

Every child has a right to dignity and safety. Yet, millions of children are being abused and exploited all over the world. Technology, which has changed our lives in so many positive ways, is also being used in the growing exploitation of children.

Today, content that is increasingly extreme and dehumanizing is available literally at children’s fingertips. The proliferation of social media which has produced dramatic increases in communications has also resulted in cyberbullying, harassment and sextortion. Vast numbers of sexual abuse images of children and youth are available online and continue to grow unabated. Online pornography is impacting the malleable minds of young children.

We embrace the vision of an internet accessible by all people. However, we believe the constitution of this vision must recognize the unwavering value of protecting all children.

The challenges are enormous, but our response must not be gloom and dismay. We must work together to seek positive, empowering solutions for all. We must ensure that all children have safe access to the internet to enhance their education, communications and connections. Technology companies and governments must continue to innovate to better protect children. We must also awaken families, neighbours, communities around the world and children themselves to the reality of the internet’s impact upon children.

Important work is being done by the Centre for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University, by the WePROTECT Global Alliance which unites 70 nations, 23 technology companies and many international organizations in this mission, and by the UN Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children. This is a problem that cannot be solved by one nation or one company or one faith acting alone, it is a global problem that requires global solutions. It requires that we build awareness, and that we mobilize action from every government, every faith, every company and every institution.

In this era of the internet the world faces unprecedented challenges if it is to preserve the rights and dignity of children and protect them from abuse and exploitation. These challenges require new thinking and approaches, heightened global awareness and inspired leadership. For this reason this Declaration of Rome appeals to everyone to stand up for the protection of the dignity of children.


The Rome Declaration

Pope Francis — “A society can be judged by the way it treats its children.”

Every child’s life is unique, meaningful and precious and every child has a right to dignity and safety. Yet today, global society is failing its children. Millions of children are being abused and exploited in tragic and unspeakable ways, and on an unprecedented scale all over the world.

Technology’s exponential advancement and integration into our everyday lives is not only changing what we do and how we do it, but who we are. Much of the impact of these changes has been very positive. However, we face the dark side of this new-found world, a world which is enabling a host of social ills that are harming the most vulnerable members of society.

While undoubtedly the Internet creates numerous benefits and opportunities in terms of social inclusion and educational attainment, today, content that is increasingly extreme and dehumanizing is available literally at children’s fingertips. The proliferation of social media means insidious acts, such as cyberbullying, harassment and sextortion, are becoming commonplace. Specifically, the range and scope of child sexual abuse and exploitation online is shocking. Vast numbers of sexual abuse images of children and youth are available online and continue to grow unabated.

The detrimental impact of pornography on the malleable minds of young children is another significant online harm. We embrace the vision of an internet accessible by all people. However, we believe the constitution of this vision must recognize the unwavering value of protecting all children.

The challenges are enormous, but our response must not be gloom and dismay. We must work together to seek positive, empowering solutions for all. We must ensure that all children have safe access to the internet to enhance their education, communications and connections.

Technology companies and government have shown leadership in this fight and must continue to innovate to better protect children. We must also awaken families, neighbours, communities around the world and children themselves to the reality of the internet’s impact upon children.

We already have potent global platforms in place and important global leaders making significant progress in fulfilling these aims. The Centre for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University conducts international safe-guarding work in 30 countries on four continents. The WePROTECT Global Alliance, launched by the United Kingdom, in partnership with the European Union and the United States, unites 70 nations, 23 technology companies and many international organizations in this fight. The United Nations is leading a global effort to achieve UN Sustainable Development Goal 16.2 to eradicate violence against children by 2030, particularly through the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children.

This is a problem that cannot be solved by one nation or one company or one faith acting alone, it is a global problem that requires global solutions. It requires that we build awareness, and that we mobilize action from every government, every faith, every company and every institution.

This Declaration of Rome issues a call to action:

1 – To world leaders to undertake a global awareness campaign to educate and inform the people of the world about the severity and extent of the abuse and exploitation of the world’s children, and to urge them to demand action from national leaders.

2 – To leaders of the world’s great religions to inform and mobilize members of every faith to join in a global movement to protect the world’s children.

3 – To the parliaments of the world to improve their laws to better protect children and hold those accountable who abuse and exploit children.

4 – To leaders of technology companies to commit to the development and implementation of new tools and technologies to attack the proliferation of sex abuse images on the Internet, and to interdict the redistribution of the images of identified child victims.

5 – To world’s ministries of public health and the leaders of non-governmental organizations to expand the rescue of child victims and improve treatment programs for victims of abuse and sexual exploitation.

6 – To government agencies, civil society and law enforcement to work to improve the recognition and identification of child victims, and ensure help for the massive numbers of hidden victims of child abuse and sexual exploitation.

7 – To the world’s law enforcement organizations to expand regional and global cooperation in order to improve information sharing in investigations and increase collaborative efforts in addressing these crimes against children which cross national boundaries.

8 – To the world’s medical institutions to enhance training for medical professionals in recognizing the indicators of abuse and sexual exploitation, and improve the reporting and treatment of such abuse and sexual exploitation.

9 – To governments and private institutions to enhance resources available to psychiatric and other treatment professionals for expanded treatment and rehabilitation services for children who have been abused or exploited.

10 – To the leading authorities in public health to expand research into the health impacts resulting from the exposure of young children and adolescents to graphic, extreme internet pornography.

11 – To leaders of the world’s governments, legislative bodies, private industry and religious institutions to advocate for and implement techniques to deny access by children and youth to internet content suitable only for adults.

12 – To governments, private industry and religious institutions to undertake a global awareness campaign directed at children and youth to educate them and provide them with the tools necessary to use the internet safely and responsibly, and to avoid the harm being done to many of their peers.

13 – To governments, private industry and religious institutions to undertake a global awareness initiative to make citizens in every country more alert and aware regarding the abuse and sexual exploitation of children, and to encourage them to report such abuse or exploitation to appropriate authorities if they see it, know about it or suspect it.

In this era of the internet the world faces unprecedented challenges if it is to preserve the rights and dignity of children and protect them from abuse and exploitation. These challenges require new thinking and approaches, heightened global awareness and inspired leadership. For this reason this Declaration of Rome appeals to everyone to stand up for the protection of the dignity of children.

Presented this 6th day of October 2017


Coverage by Salt and Light Television

 

 

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