Speech delivered at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, UK, 27 May 2015.
<check against delivery>
Ladies and gentlemen, some children in the world are physically living on a railway line; other children are metaphorically living on that same railway line, never sure where the next insult to their emotional and physical integrity is going to come from.
Child abuse and neglect is not something that just affects children overseas; we know that right now, today, in regions all across the UK, children are being abused, neglected and exploited by the very families and communities that ought to be caring for them.
My Fellowship last year took me 35043 miles. Nine different cities in six different countries and I produced a report – Living on a Railway Line – that has made ten key recommendations to turn the tide of child abuse, exploitation and neglect in the UK and overseas.
Each year in the UK of those children who are physically abused over a quarter of a million are injured and about 75000 require medical attention. 20% of 11-17 year olds have been severely maltreated by a parent or guardian and 1 in 20 children has experienced contact sexual abuse.
So what, ladies and gentlemen, are YOU going to do about it?
Before I explore that further, a video.
<Video explaining about children being sold in Phnom Penh>
I’ve deliberately blocked out the faces of the children who were shown in that video but you can take it from me that it wasn’t just one child that was being sexually exploited. Ladies and gentlemen, the world really is in greater peril from those who tolerate or encourage evil than from those who commit it.
But that is about Cambodia, surely? Am I really suggesting that children here in the UK might be being sold as you have just seen?
Well, maybe not for 300 US Dollars but we need to look more deeply at WHY families take this last resort to understand that the principles behind why that exploitation happened are not a million miles; not a thousand miles; not EVEN a few miles away from the cases of terrible exploitation you can’t have failed to have heard about here in the UK.
I have no doubt that, as we have seen through the investigation of exploitation cases, children ARE being used as a form of currency here in the UK and that is something we have to put a stop to.
Ladies and gentlemen, there are a series of legislative changes that I have recommended in my report.
There must be a new law introduced in the UK legally requiring professionals working in regulated activities to report cases of suspected child abuse.
To do otherwise would be as egregious as the abuse itself.
The terms child prostitute and child prostitution must be removed from international legislation as they do not acknowledge that these children are actually victims of serious sexual abuse and exploitation.
As for physical punishment of children, and yes, I am talking about smacking or, as I found in Texas, the legal beating of children in schools with a wooden paddle 60cm long, 7.5cm wide and over 1cm thick…
This must be prohibited.
There have been many decades of research showing that children who are physically punished are at greater risk of adverse mental health outcomes and are more likely to be defiant and aggressive in the future. Just because that hasn’t happened to you or your children doesn’t mean everything is ok in the rest of the population.
The UK position, where physical punishment of children is permitted yet child abuse is forbidden, cannot continue and, in line with 44 countries around the world, the UK must change the law to prohibit smacking of children.
It really is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.
It is not just legislation that is needed. April each year is Child Abuse Awareness month in the USA.
It starts with a Presidential proclamation underlining the importance, at the highest level of government, that is placed on this event.
As a nation we in the UK must do better – we have to strengthen our resolve to give every child and young person the security, opportunity and bright future that they deserve.
The newly formed UK Government should consult with key child protection stakeholders and launch a pilot UK Child Abuse Awareness month as soon as possible for education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world around you.
No one could fail to appreciate the dangers the community living beside the Railway Line I visited in Cambodia are exposed to.
I want to finish today by talking about that community as we, in the UK, have a lot to learn from them. A community that I’m privileged to now be supporting as part of a three-year UK-Cambodian partnership I have set up, following my Fellowship.
But, what is it that YOU can do to stop that train coming down the metaphorical Railway Line here in the UK and to better protect children from harm?
The answer lies in the amazing achievements of the ChildSafe scheme and an organisation called M’Lop Tapang in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. These schemes protect children from all forms of abuse, they prevent children and young people from engaging in dangerous activities and they influence all tiers of society and the international community so they can create positive environments for children and young people.
ChildSafe gets the community to go back to basics to protect, nurture and support the children living within it and I am confident that launching a UK-specific ChildSafe Scheme here will have startling and life-changing results for the community in which it is introduced.
And alongside that, so that we can all play our part in protecting children in the international community I want the UK travel industry to sign-up to and promote the ChildSafe concept and the 7 top tips for travellers. Simple but powerful messages that will help us to protect those people who are the future of our society.
For our current society does a great injustice to children when we fail to listen to their views, fail to facilitate their true participation in the world around them and fail to value their contributions towards shaping a better society for everyone in the future.
And, ladies and gentlemen, if you come across adversity and if you are not listened to when trying to help children and young people please remember that, no matter what anybody tells you, it IS words and ideas that can and do change the world. You can make those changes that I’ve recommended happen. You can make a difference.
The majority of children in society are not abused, harmed or exploited. Every child truly matters and that is something that my new charity, SicKids, will reinforce. Every child should have every chance of good health, every chance of happiness and every chance of protection from harm.
We all have a responsibility to create safe places for children to live the lives that they would wish to. These are not just words but a realistic possibility if all of the communities in our global society pull together.
Because, ladies and gentlemen, what IS the use of living if it be not to strive for noble caused and make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone?
Thank you very much.