Cardinal Parolin: reaffirmS the dignity of Our Smallest ones

(Courtesy of Vatican News)

The Vatican Secretary of State sent a message during the meeting promoted by our Safeguarding Partner Telefono Azzurro that focused on the theme “Dignity of children and adolescents at the time of Covid”. The Cardinal stressed the need for “a more incisive approach in the education of our younger generations.”

To reflect on the steps taken in the field of child advocacy and emphasize the importance of continuing to act together, cooperating also within the Child Dignity Alliance, an alliance established following the 2017 Congress “Child Dignity in the Digital World.” Promoting the comparison between institutions, media, national and international experts, to respond to the grave phenomenon of sexual abuse that is witnessing a dangerous rate of growth. These were the aims of the meeting “Dignity of Children and Adolescents in the Time of Covid”, an event promoted by Telefono Azzurro in collaboration with the Embassy of Italy to the Holy See on the occasion of the National Day against Pedophilia.

Cardinal Parolin Reaffirms The Inestimable Value of Life
During the meeting which took place in Palazzo Borromeo and which was simultaneously streamed live through the youtube channel of Vatican News, the message of the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, was read aloud. Referring to the initiative promoted by Telefono Azzurro, the Cardinal recalled that yesterday’s event “intends to highlight the risks, fears and dangers that the most fragile part of our society, children and adolescents, are facing today”. And he hopes that today’s moment of reflection will “reaffirm the inestimable value of life and dignity of the youngest and most defenseless. Cardinal Parolin, in his message, also indicates a priority: “the duty of establishing a more incisive approach in educating our younger generations, for a radical rejection of all violence and abuse against minors. And for “an increasingly correct use of the means of communication”.

An Ugly Phenomenon in Constant Evolution
Cardinal O’Malley also participated in the meeting, outlining the activities of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. Father Hans Zollner, Professor at the Gregorian University and President of the “Centre for Child Protection”, also recalled some of the data listed in the volume “Online Child Sexual Exploitation. Treatment and Prevention of Abuse in a Digital World”, published by Springer and edited by Professor Ernesto Caffo, President and founder of Telefono Azzurro as scientific head of the conference “Child Dignity in the Digital World” held in 2017 at the Pontifical Gregorian University. Overall, the data on sexual abuse confirms that it is a constantly evolving phenomenon. The Council of Europe estimates that 1 in 5 children are abused throughout Europe. In the United Kingdom, it is estimated that 7.5% of adults were sexually abused before the age of 16. International data also confirms that, in cases of sexual abuse, victims in most cases struggle to seek help and opt to remain silent.

The Pitfalls of the Network
The meeting also highlighted another frightening trend: For some time now, and even during this pandemic period, the Internet and digital technologies have contributed to exposing children and adolescents to a new level of vulnerability. In its annual report published last year, Internet Watch Foundation (April 2020) reports – with respect to the year 2019 – an increase in the number of websites hosting images or videos 3 depicting child sexual abuse. In one-third of cases, this content is produced by the children themselves, in response to deception or blackmail. Most of this content depicts pre-adolescent children, between the ages of 11 and 13. Data from the Listening and Counseling Center of Telefono Azzurro also show that the Internet and new technologies have increased sexual solicitation and child abuse.

Caffo: More Rules For The Internet
The president of Telefono Azzurro, Ernesto Caffo, referring to the risks on the Internet, underlines in particular that it is necessary to train children to use new technologies correctly. It is also necessary to have further norms, at an international level, that bind the large internet companies to rules and standards aimed at preventing children from encountering situations that are harmful to them.

Caffo: More Regulations at the International Level
With the pandemic, there has been a worldwide increase in cases of violence, both online and offline. “The biggest challenge for us adults – said Ernesto Caffo speaking at the meeting – is to ensure that young people have safe access to these technologies: the web is in fact frequented by perpetrators and children, especially the most vulnerable, and they can easily become prey to different types of abuse. Governments, the non-profit sector, institutions, academia and civil society must join efforts.”