Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse [Lanzarote Convention]

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Publication Date March 2018
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Background information:

The Council of Europe Convention on Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, (“the Lanzarote Convention”) deals with criminalisation of all kinds of sexual offences against children. It sets out that states in Europe and beyond shall adopt specific legislation and take measures to prevent sexual violence, to protect child victims and to prosecute perpetrators. This Convention is the first instrument to establish the various forms of sexual abuse of children as criminal offences, including such abuse committed in the home or family, with the use of force, coercion or threats.

Sexual exploitation and sexual abuse are some of the worst forms of violence against children. There are no statistics on the total amount of sexual abuse of children in Europe, but it is well known that there is a considerable discrepancy between the number of reported cases of sexual abuse of children to the police and social services and actual cases. It is also recognised that children usually experience extreme difficulties in telling anyone about being sexually abused. Thus, the available data shows that, in Council of Europe countries, the majority of sexual abuse against children is committed within the family framework, by persons close to the child or by those in the child’s social environment.

The main international existing instrument in the field of protection of children’s rights, including against sexual exploitation, is the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). With broad and general provisions this Convention protects children from all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse, abduction, sale and trafficking, any other form of exploitation and from cruel or inhuman treatment.

The main aim of the Convention is to prevent sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children from taking place. This prevention can be achieved by recruiting and training of people working in contact with children alongside general awareness raising; education for the children; preventive intervention programmes and measures; participation of children, private sector, media and civil society.

As far as the substantial criminal law is concerned, the Convention criminalises certain forms of abuse, namely sexual abuse; offences concerning child pornography, child prostitution; corruption of children; solicitation of children for sexual purposes. It also ensures that certain types of conduct are classified as criminal offences, such as engaging in sexual activities with a child below the legal age and child prostitution and pornography. The convention also criminalises the use of the new technologies – the internet in particular – to sexually harm or abuse children, for example by "grooming”, an increasingly worrying phenomenon of children being sexually harmed after meeting adults they have previously encountered in internet chat rooms or game sites.

The Convention also establishes programmes to support victims, encourages people to report suspected sexual exploitation and abuse, and sets up telephone and internet helplines for children. The “Lanzarote Committee” (the Committee of the Parties to the Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse) is the body established to monitor whether Parties effectively implement the Lanzarote Convention. To do so, the Committee evaluates the information which has been provided by the national authorities and other sources in their replies to questionnaires developed by the Committee itself.

With the aim of combating child sex tourism, the Convention establishes that individuals can be prosecuted for some offences even when the act is committed abroad.
The new legal tool also ensures that child victims are protected during judicial proceedings, for example with regard to their identity and privacy.

Preparing the Convention:

The Council of Europe has been working hard for more than 15 years to help its member States fight the destructive phenomenon of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children. The political commitment by the member States of the Council of Europe to fight sexual exploitation of children was affirmed at the second Summit of Heads of State and Governments (November 1997). The Action Plan adopted at this Summit called upon the member States to review national legislation with the aim of ensuring common standards for the protection of children suffering from or at risk of inhuman treatment to extend their co-operation, within the Council of Europe, with a view to preventing all forms of exploitation of children.
The Heads of State and Governments of the Council of Europe member States reaffirmed this commitment at their third Summit in Warsaw in May 2005.

In 2002, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe appointed a Group of Specialists on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation (PC-S-ES). A tool enabling States to implement the various undertakings they subscribed to in the field of the fight against sexual exploitation and abuse of children, “REACT on sexual exploitation and abuse of children”, was drafted and sent to member States in 2004. The document listed all commitments made by States in the above mentioned instruments and also provided the possibility for States to submit additional information.
At the end of 2004, 23 States had replied, and the replies were analysed by an independent expert at the beginning of 2005. The analysis showed that, in numerous ways, implementation of the commitments made by member States had not been fully achieved.

Based on the analysis of REACT, the PC-S-ES organised a follow-up conference to the 2nd World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Yokohama Review for Europe and Central Asia – Combating sexual exploitation of children. The recommendation that the Council of Europe should draft a binding instrument regarding child-friendly judicial procedures in cases of sexual abuse was particularly highlighted.
Following the conclusions of the 3rd Summit of Heads of State and Governments of the Council of Europe, in May 2005, calling for the elaboration of measures to stop sexual exploitation of children, the Committee of Ministers set up, in March 2006, the Committee of Experts on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (PC-ES) with the task of conducting a review of the implementation of the existing international instruments on the protection of children against sexual exploitation to evaluate the need for an additional international legally binding instrument, containing a follow-up mechanism and/or amendments to the existing ones and if the need for an additional instrument is established, subject to the approval of the CDPC (European Committee on Crime Problems), prepare such an instrument.

The drafting procedure of the new instrument began in September 2006. Meetings of the Committee were held, in May, September, October, December 2006, February and March 2007, to draw up the text.

Related Links
Council of Europe: Text of the Lanzarote Convention
Lanzarote Convention Website
Council of Europe: Explanatory Report on the Lanzarote Convention

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