UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. General Assembly approved a resolution Monday establishing Nov. 18 as a day to highlight the sexual exploitation and abuse of children.
The day will also be used to highlight the need for prevention, bringing perpetrators to justice and giving victims a voice as part of the long healing process.
The resolution, which was co-sponsored by Sierra Leone and Nigeria and co-sponsored by more than 110 countries, was approved by consensus and a whistle from the acting president of the assembly, which was greeted with loud applause.
Sierra Leone’s first lady, Fatima Maada Bio, who introduced the resolution, called child sexual abuse a “heinous crime” that particularly affects girls who are at greater risk of experiencing forced sex and exploitation.
He said prevention is “an emergency – but doable”.
The resolution declares November 18 of each year as the International Day for the Prevention and Treatment of Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Violence against Children.
It calls on the 193 UN member states, international organizations, world leaders, civil society, non-governmental groups, religious leaders, academic institutions and private businesses to commemorate the day “in a way that each considers the more appropriate”.
The convention suggested educating the public about the impact of sexual abuse on children, the need to prevent online and offline exploitation, and holding perpetrators accountable.
It said survivors must have access to justice and “an open debate on the need to prevent and eliminate their stigmatization, promote their healing, affirm their dignity and protect their rights.”
Bio welcomed the widespread support for the resolution, telling reporters after the vote: “I think the whole world is standing in solidarity to say enough is enough.”
He said November 18 would not be a day of celebration, but a reminder to the world that the “scourge” of child sexual abuse is happening and to give victims voices “so they know they are not in this alone”.
“When someone violates your body without your consent, that’s a crime, and it takes away your human rights,” he said. “So November 18 is going to be a day when we come together and scream together and say, ‘You’re not going to bring us down. We’re still alive and we’re going to live. If you think you’re done with us, no, you’re not.’
Bio said that in the West sexual abuse has been discussed for a long time and people are not ashamed, but that in Africa people do not want to talk about rape. “We covered things up for so long,” he said.
“We need to stop using religion to cover up bad things … there is no religion that says rape is acceptable,” he said.
Bio credits the new generation for saying “we don’t have this anymore” and urged all countries to let the victims speak on November 18.
“I don’t know if we’ll be able to completely stop rape in the world, but the louder we speak, I think it reduces the number of victims we have,” she said.
Bio credited the resolution to Jennifer Wortham, a Californian whose two younger brothers were abused by their parish priest more than 35 years ago and who is campaigning for a global day to help bring healing and justice for the survivors. Wortham raised the issue with her, “putting that on my agenda,” Bio said.
Wortham praised the support from UN member states and said more than 100 organizations would tweet support for the resolution on Monday.
Brisa de Angulo, a lawyer and child psychologist who campaigns against sexual abuse in her country of Bolivia, said she was a victim of sexual violence when she was 15 and has been fighting for justice for 20 years. Noting that a month ago, Colombia decided not to extradite the alleged attacker to stand trial, he called the assembly’s action “a very important day for me.”
“For many years, the survivors walked in silence with the shame and responsibility for what happened to us,” de Angulo told reporters. “To have a day that acknowledges that what happened to you is wrong and that we’re finally going to start doing something about it, start talking about it and not hiding it — it’s extremely important.”