UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The UN General Assembly on Monday approved a resolution establishing November 18 as a day to raise awareness of the sexual exploitation and abuse of children.
The day will also be used to highlight the need for prevention, bring perpetrators to justice and give victims a voice as part of the long healing process.
The resolution, sponsored by Sierra Leone and Nigeria and co-sponsored by more than 110 countries, was adopted by consensus by the acting chairman of the assembly and was greeted with loud applause.
Sierra Leone’s first lady, Fatima Maada Bio, who introduced the resolution, called child sexual abuse a “horrific crime” that particularly affects girls who are at greater risk of forced sex and exploitation.
She said prevention is “an emergency — but doable.”
The resolution declares November 18 each year as World Day for the Prevention and Cure of Child Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Violence.
It calls on the 193 UN member states, international organizations, world leaders, civil society, non-governmental groups, faith leaders, academic institutions and private companies to commemorate the day “in whatever manner each sees fit”.
The meeting proposed to educate the public about the impact of sexual abuse on children, the need to prevent exploitation online and offline, and hold perpetrators accountable.
It said survivors should have access to justice and to “open discussion about the need to prevent and eliminate their stigma, promote their healing, affirm their dignity and protect their rights.”
Bio welcomed the resolution’s wide support, telling reporters after the vote, “I think the whole world is in solidarity to say enough is enough.”
She said November 18 will not be a holiday but a reminder to the world that the “plague” of child sexual abuse is happening and to give the victims votes “so they know they are not alone”.
“If someone infringes on your body without your permission, that is a crime, and it takes away your human rights,” she said. “So November 18th will be a day when we’ll get together, and we’ll scream together and say, ‘You’re not going to bring us down. We still survive and we will live. If you think you’ve finished us off, no, you haven’t.”
Bio said that sexual abuse has been talked about for a long time in the West and that people are not ashamed, but that people in Africa do not want to talk about rape. “We’ve covered things up for so long,” she said.
“We need to stop using religion to cover up bad things…there is no religion that says rape is acceptable,” she said.
Bio praised the young generation for saying “we don’t have this anymore” and urged all countries to allow victims to speak on November 18.
“I don’t know if we can stop rape in the world completely, but the louder we sound, I think the number of victims we have will decrease,” she said.
Bio gave credit for the resolution to Jennifer Wortham, a Californian whose two younger brothers were abused by their pastor more than 35 years ago and who is campaigning for a World Day to help bring healing and justice to survivors. Wortham brought up the matter with her, “making this my agenda,” Bio said.
Wortham praised the support of UN member states and said more than 100 organizations would tweet their support for the resolution on Monday.
Brisa de Angulo, a lawyer and child psychologist who campaigns against sexual abuse in her home country of Bolivia, said she was a victim of sexual assault when she was 15 and has fought for justice for 20 years. Noting that Colombia decided a month ago not to extradite her alleged attacker to face trial, she called the meeting’s action “a very important day for me.”
“For years, survivors have walked around in silence with the shame and guilt for what happened to us,” De Angulo told reporters. to do something about it, talk about it and not hide it – is extremely important.”