[WATCH] One in five children in Europe victims of sexual abuse

One out every five children in Europe are victims of sexual abuse according to family therapist Charles Azzopardi

Justice Minister says authorities are duty-bound to fight for the rights of children and vulnerable persons

Speaking at a seminar held on occasion of the European day on the protection of children against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, family therapist Charles Azzopardi said that between 70% and 85% of cases involved abusers who are trusted by the victims.

Azzopardi said that the Lanzarote convention committee he heads had two roles; one is to ensure that the EU convention is implemented in all member states and to share information between member states.

"One of our next challenges is to carry out research into what types of abuse are most 'fashionable' at the moment," he said adding that further research into the different kinds of predators and the role of the internet in abuse on minors was also necessary.

"Many continue to associate predators to males, but we are now aware of the frequency of even cross gender instances, with women sometimes abusing young girls among other cases," he said.

Justice minister Owen Bonnici said that the day marked a battle to fight for the rights of the vulnerable, and that this was the duty of the authorities.

"We believe that children merit protection and we need to ensure that enough deterrants are present for potential offenders."

He added however that culprits also deserved the possibility to rehabilitate themselves in these cases.

"Whenever there is such a case, public opinion often shifts towards the removal of rehabilitation but we must strike a balance between both aspects; deterrants and rehabilitation."

Bonnici said that the decision to change the age of criminal responsibility to 14 year olds and the public perception to this change showed that a lot still needed to be done to tackle the way society conceived of children.

He added that the government had made changes including harsher penalties for those who use children for prostitution or pornography, as well as anyone participating in sexual acts with minors.

Bonnici said that the country needed to strengthen its fight against abuse on minors, and that further efforts were needed to anticipate criminality in young people and help them to avoid such a life rather than loading them with more responsibility.

Social solidarity minister Michael Farrugia said that the ministry was working on increasing links with the educational sector and strengthening the foundation for social wellbeing's outreach programmes.

"Trust with relatives or family friends is often corrupted if they are the culprits themselves, so children might seek out assistance from their teachers," he said, adding that the trauma might also affect people other than the victims themselves.

"By having better outreach programmes, we can ensure that more children are reached and assisted as required," Farrugia said.

He explained that the programme would also seek to find cases of child trafficking and prostitution on our own shores.

Farrugia added that the government was also looking forward to publishing a new positive parenting policy to tackle issues from their beginning.

"We will be working on improving care orders and their regulation," he said, adding that a board would be set up to determine whether care orders were necessary and to introduce family plans in cases where they weren't.

He further explained that the foundation was also working on a relationship plan policy which would tackle families and even interreligious and intercultural settings.