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International Cooperation

 

The Smile of the Child is dedicated to protecting children from all forms of abuse and from the various dangers that may threaten their well-being. The organisation works directly with children and advocates on their behalf in the field of child protection and children's rights. In 2008 The Smile of the Child was active nationally, on a European basis and internationally in a variety of issues that affect children.

 

The Smile of the Child has continued to be an active member of Missing Children Europe (MCE).  The Association is on the Board of Directors of MCE and currently holds Vice-Presidency.  The Smile of the Child is active in the task forces that MCE creates to address specific issues related to missing and exploited children. Through MCE, The Smile of the Child is also involved in child protection advocacy at the Council of Europe and the European Parliament.  2008 was no exception to the activities.  Child pornography is an insidious problem that plagues all countries globally.  To combat this form of sexual exploitation, the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC) formed a financial coalition in the United States and Canada to combat child pornography.  Specifically they brought together the financial industry, credit card companies, internet service providers, law enforcement and NGO's so that the various stakeholders could work together to combat child pornography.  The two North American countries share similar legal systems which made cooperation between the countries and the various stakeholders possible.  The situation in Europe was much more complex.  Aside from the fact that each member state of the European Union had their own legal system and legislation, European privacy laws made the task of having these industries work with law enforcement more difficult.  In order to address these issues, MCE had a law firm research the laws in 11 European countries, the EU legal framework and Russian legislation.  The report concludes that while there were many legal obstacles in the banking and privacy laws in Europe, the legal issues were not insurmountable.  With this information, MCE and its members began to effectively lobby European institutions for change.  While The Smile of the Child has been actively lobbying in Europe, the focus of efforts for legal reformation had to take place in Greece as well.

 

As a Board member of MCE, The Smile of the Child attended the Board meetings in Prague in January and in Paris in September 2008.  Amongst the many issues that were discussed were the close working relationship with ICMEC, working with organisations and interested parties in Bulgaria and Spain in order to open operational centres for missing and exploited children in those countries, and issues of how to protect children through legislative changes in the member states.    

 

Along with Microsoft and the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC), The Smile of the Child organised a four day work shop entitled "Computer Facilitated Crimes Against Children". The instructors were prosecutors and police officers from all over the United States, Canada and Europe. The 4 day training seminar was attended by police officers, prosecutors and judges from all over Greece and seven neighbouring countries. The training course was designed to provide law enforcement with the tools and techniques necessary to effectively investigate and prosecute Internet-related child exploitation cases.  

 

The training course was immediately followed by a round table discussion that brought together key stakeholders in Greece in the field of Internet Child Safety included the General Secretary of the Ministry of Interior, Chairman of the Association of Public Prosecutors in Greece, Head of Interpol's National Centre in Greece, Head of the Cybercrime Unit of the Greek Police, Missing Person's Bureau and Child Protection Unit of the Greece Police, the General Director of the Federation of Hellenic Information Technology and Communication Enterprises (SEPE) and executives from the information technology industry, to name a few of the participants in the discussion. Most significantly however, the participants of the round table formulated a concrete action plan on how nationally and internationally they could work together to fight the sexual exploitation of children through the Internet.

 

CEPOL (European Police College) and the Cypriot Police invited The Smile of the Child as a lecturer  in a four-day training seminar that they organised entitled "Strategies Against Child Abuse". The training seminar was held March 17-21st in Nicosia Cyprus and was attended by law enforcement from Cyprus, Germany, Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, France, Ireland and the Netherlands.  Once again, it became obvious that one of the most effective tools in combating child abuse and exploitation is to share information, knowledge and to cooperate on an international basis.

 

The Smile of the Child is a member of Child Helplines International (CHI), an international organisation that is active in 160 countries around the world and is active in promoting the use of helplines as a tool in child protection.   Since 2006, the Association has been appointed to the Advocacy Committee of CHI.  In April 2008 the Advocacy Committee met to discuss the May 17th "Children and Technology Campaign", as well as for the creation of an advocacy manual that will assist member organisations by providing information, knowledge and best practices to them.  As well, the advocacy committee's mandate is to advocate for child protection and children's rights globally through the use of helplines. The task force is also active in promoting a six-digit helpline globally.

 

The Smile of the Child brought AMBER Alert Hellas to Greece.  Once the police determine that a child is in immediate danger, the organisation is responsible for activating the public emergency broadcast system.  In one of the cases that AMBER Alert Hellas was activated in Greece, it was later determined that the child had been taken outside of Greece into another European member state. This case was a primary example of why it is necessary to have emergency alert systems in all European member states. Since AMBER Alert Hellas was launched in May 2007, The Smile of the Child has been actively advocating for similar national systems in other European member states, and for a European-wide child alert system.

 

In June 2008, as part of MCE, The Smile of the Child contacted every Greek and Cypriot Members of European Parliament (MEPs) and urged them to sign Declaration 0036/2008 which urges all member states to implement a national emergency alert system and to reach cooperation agreements with their neighbouring member states for alert systems.  The campaign was successful and almost all Greek and Cypriot MEP's signed the declaration.

 

In June 2008, The Smile of the Child also promoted the "STOP" campaign.  The campaign was a petition that was initiated by members of European Parliament, ECPAT and Save the Children.  The campaign was to gather signatures from all over Europe that were to be presented to government officials, politicians and international bodies at the  3rd World Congress Against Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents in Brazil in November 2008. Through its own site and the Greek webpage on missingkids.com, The Smile of the Child promoted the campaign and gathered signatures from all over Greece.

 

In July 2008, The Smile of the Child's work in the field of child protection and children's rights was recognised and the organisation was granted "special consultative status" with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).  Working with ECOSOC will provide the Association with the opportunity to use its experience and knowledge to help children all over the world.

 

For the first time, the United Nation's Department of Public Information (UNDPI) hosted its conference outside New York City.  The 2008 NGO conference was held in Paris from September 3rd-5th and the theme of the conference was "Reaffirming Human Rights for All:  The Universal Declaration at 60".  The conference was attended by over 2000 non-government organisations from 90 countries.  The Smile of the Child was asked to organise and host one of the workshops, entitled: "Our Children: Their Rights and Our Future: Education as a Human Right". Speakers focused on the importance of education and public awareness to combat labour and sexual exploitation, paying particular attention to children and young people. Discussions included trafficking in human beings and sexual and labour exploitation.  The discussion concluded that education needs to be two-fold.  Firstly, education is a basic human right and governments must commit resources to ensure that all children receive basic education.  As well, everyone agreed that children from very early on must be taught basic human rights.  It is the only way to ensure that they are not exploited themselves and that they do not grow up to exploit others.  Finally, the need to raise government and public awareness on the issue of education was highlighted. The mid-day workshop was attended by representatives of organisations from around the world including Belgium, England, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Korea, Sudan, Switzerland and the USA. 

 

The Smile of the Child is an active member of the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC) and is on the Board of Directors.  The Association participated in meetings that were held in 2008, the first in April in Dublin Ireland, and the second in October in Washington D.C.  The purpose of the Dublin meeting was to continue international lobbying efforts for changes in national legislation in child pornography; to increase pressure internationally so that child pornography is not commercially profitable or viable, and to find ways to continue an open dialogue and cooperation amongst the 2000 law enforcement officers that were training by ICMEC to investigate child pornography.  The meeting in October 2008 was equally active and ICMEC's goal is to continue to work with its European and global partners to combat child sexual exploitation.

 

From October 14-26th 2008, the U.S. Department of Justice organised the 2008 AMBER Alert Conference in Anaheim California.   Invited were law enforcement agencies from across the United States, Canada and Mexico, the United Kingdom, Belgium, France and the Netherlands, national and local media broadcasters, non-governmental organisations and private enterprise involved in new technologies.  Discussions were centred on the need to increase intra-state and intra-country cooperation in cases where AMBER Alert activation was necessary

 

 The Smile of the Child also participated in the international meeting that was held during the conference where issues pertaining especially to Europe were discussed. One of the key issues is the EU Commission's decision that there should be a European child alert system. Unfortunately in Europe there are still very few countries (France, UK and Greece) that have an emergency public broadcast system. The Smile of the Child is proud that the Greek model of using all methods of communicating with the public in order to find missing children was used as an example of best practices and an example of how successful AMBER can be when government, the media, private industry and non-government organisations work together.

 

On October 29th, 2008 The Smile of the Child and Missing Children Europe organised a High Level Round Table on missing children entitled:  Addressing the Problem.   The round table was hosted by the Minister of Interior, Mr. Prokopis Pavlopoulos and the Belgian Ambassador to Greece, Mr. Pierre Vaesen.  Invited guests included telecom operators, telecom regulators, internet service providers, law enforcement from the Greek National Police, Greek Public Prosecutors, Judges, members of other non-government organisations from Greece and other European member states.  The discussion was centered on how "116000" the European hotline for missing children can be used as a tool to helping children and parents.  Mrs. Margarida Barroso, Independent Administrator of Missing Children Europe and wife of the President of the European Commission officially launched 116000 in Greece.

 

While designation of 116000 was an important step in Greece to finding missing children, the number's effectiveness depends largely on its being functional in all European member states and well known by children and the public.  To this end The Smile of the Child worked with MCE to create an action plan to assist other member organisations in other member states. The objectives of the action plan were to facilitate the reservation of the number by the regulatory authorities, assignment of the number to national hotlines and the operational implementation of the number by providing best practice examples. To this end, a two-day meeting was organised in Greece for October 30th and 31st 2008.  Participants of the meeting included other MCE members, national regulators and telecom companies.  At the end of two long and technical days, the group not only managed to create three different questionnaires, one geared to NGO's, one to telecom regulators and one to telecom operators, but to share ideas and best practices.

 

In November 2008, as a member of the Global Missing Children’s Network (GMCN), The Smile of the Child was invited by the U.S. National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) to participate in the annual training session. The meeting was held November 12-15th in Washington D.C. and was attended by representatives from all over the world including Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Romania, USA and of course, Greece.  The objective of the meeting was to share experiences, concerns, issues and best practices and learn from the US experience in the field of missing children.  Some of NCMEC's departments, such as the forensic services unit and the age progression unit are available to GMCN partners.  The Smile of the Child has used the services in the past and will continue to work closely with both NCMEC and the Global Missing Children's Network.     

 

This year, CHI's international conference was held in November 16-20th in Amman Jordan.  Topics that were addressed included the use of volunteers in helplines, the importance of confidentiality in child protection, monitoring and evaluating child helplines and increasing child participation in helplines. The Smile of the Child was re-appointed for another two year term to the advocacy task force and was also asked to join the new technology committee.

 

Many of the projects that began in 2008 will expand and grow in 2009 ensuring that 2009 will also be a productive and busy year.