Your Excellency, Madam Chongchith Chantharonh, Acting Secretary-General of the National Commission for Mothers and Children, Excellencies, colleagues from the UK’s Child Exploitation and On-line Protection Centre, ladies and gentlemen. A very warm welcome to you all.
I am very grateful to you, Madam Chongchith and your officers at the National Commission for Mothers and Children for enabling this workshop. It has been a pleasure to work together with you to organise this event, a follow on to one of the very first activities the newly re-established British Embassy in Laos organised with you last year.
I am also grateful to my colleagues from the Child Exploitation and On-line Protection Centre (CEOP) in the UK for making the journey to be here this week, in particular to Tim Gerrish, with whom we have been working on this event for several months.
CEOP has worked with countries in SE Asia for a number of years to enhance national and regional capacity to identify, prevent and deter the sexual exploitation and abuse of children. This has been achieved through multi-sector partnerships and effective awareness-raising, in both the real and online worlds.
The work has also been in support of the ASEAN Commission on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Women and Children, specifically in helping the ACWC achieve its goals of regional and international co-operation along with capacity building aimed at realising the rights of women and children. It also relates directly to the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community Blueprint objective of preventing the on-line exploitation of women, children and other vulnerable groups.
There is already good work being done in Laos on child protection by the National Commission on Mothers and Children and their partners in the iNGO sector. Recent good examples of efforts to build a comprehensive child protection system in Laos include:
- the development of community Child Protection Networks,
- a national counselling hotline service for youth,
- the establishment of Child Court Chambers under the central and provincial court,
- the strengthening of provincial counselling services through the Lao Women’s Union Counselling and Protection Units,
- development of a Juvenile Criminal Procedure Law,
- assessments of the child and family welfare system and the justice system as it relates to children,
- and important discussions around the initiation of the social work profession in the Lao PDR.
Building the child protection system provides a more cohesive, sustainable and cost-effective way to address child protection concerns, resulting in longer-term impacts for all children.
Experience from the UK and elsewhere has demonstrated that effective child protection must be a truly multi-agency approach. No one agency can solve complex child protection issues alone. This week’s workshop will show the real value of this multi-sectoral approach and I hope it will enable the further strengthening of the government/civil society partnership in Lao PDR.
The focus of this week’s training on Achieving Best Evidence from interviewing child victims of sexual exploitation has been developed in conjunction with the National Commission for Mothers and Children (NCMC) and in direct response to the government’s Plan of Action on Violence against Children 2014-2020.
It also follows Laos’ first ever survey and in-depth research on violence against children in the Lao PDR, carried out by UNICEF, and we look forward to hearing some of the preliminary findings from that work and relevant case studies during the course of the next few days.
Achieving Best Evidence (ABE) interviewing for children is a recognised approach in how to interview children to get the best evidence for use in a court of law. As a result of the training, the hope is to produce a set of simple guidelines, relevant to the Lao context, that can be used in future for interviewing child victims of sexual abuse in the Lao PDR.
At a very basic level, ABE requires the interviewers to meet and consider a number of factors prior to the interview with the child. These range from the broad to the specific, but include a number of factors pertaining to the individual child, his or her family, and background, for example – the child’s age, race, culture, and use of language; religion; issues of gender and sexuality; any special needs; the child’s cognitive, memory and linguistic abilities; his or her current emotional state; and the child’s sex education and sexual knowledge, amongst other factors.
The sexual exploitation and abuse of children is a sad reality in today’s world and no country is immune. Given the nature of this crime, and it is a crime, it often goes unreported as victims are either too afraid or too ashamed to tell anyone who might be able to help. The rapid growth in the internet and the opportunity it provides for on-line exploitation of children may exacerbate the problem.
It is therefore vitally important those investigating crimes of child sexual exploitation and working closely with child are equipped with the right techniques to properly investigate those crimes and bring the perpetrators to justice, while at the same time providing protection and counselling to the victims.
Please allow me to say a little about the UK’s Child Exploitation and On-Line Protection Centre, which will deliver the workshop over the next three days:
CEOP (as it is known) is dedicated to eradicating the sexual abuse of children. It is part of the UK’s policing family and has a key role in tracking and bringing to justice child sex offenders.
But it is much more than that and works closely with professionals from the child protection community, government and the on-line and internet industry. This enables CEOP to approach the prevention of child sex abuse from different perspectives and better respond to the challenges. CEOP also works closely with international partners to enable close co-ordination in the international dimension of child sex abuse.
So I believe they are well-equipped to provide insights and share their knowledge and expertise in this highly complex area. CEOP are already working closely with counterparts in several ASEAN countries and we are very pleased to be able to continue this work with you here today.
Once again, my thanks to you all for participating. I wish you a successful workshop.