The Istanbul Convention: Preventing Violence and Protecting Victims

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“Over a third of women worldwide have been victims of violence,” the French newspaper Le Figaro reported in its Madame section. The term “violence” means physical or sexual violence caused by a spouse or father, rape, forced child marriage, or Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).


In Europe, violence toward women is one of the most serious violations of human rights, whether the violence is domestic, conjugal, or even stemming from a traditional practice. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), up to 5000 women are murdered each year by a member of their own family because of being raped or accused of being an adulterer. Between 500,000 and 2 million people, mostly women and children, are victims of trafficking each year, leading to either prostitution or forced labor. Nearly 2.5 million women and girls are affected by FGM each year. The practice is most common in Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, but we mistakenly think that Western countries are immune to this problem. In fact, this practice is quite widespread in Western countries, although these countries consider it to be a serious crime.

Tools to combat domestic violence and violence toward women
Many declarations, including the Beijing Declaration, were adopted to eliminate discrimination against women or to make eliminating violence against women their primary objective. Tools to combat this type of violence have been created. One such tool is the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, or the Istanbul Convention, ratified on August 1, 2014. It is interesting to highlight the reason why the Council of Europe decided to tackle the issue of violence toward women: As we know, the principle role of the Council of Europe is to protect human rights and ensure they are enforced. It goes without saying that violence against women and children violates these rights.

A history lesson: the 1990s to the 2000s
In the 1990s, the Council of Europe worked to establish equality between men and women, including protecting women from the many types of violence they might suffer. Then came an innovation in the early 2000s by member states of the Council of Europe: violence prevention and victim protection strategies. Various reports and evaluations showed that huge progress had been made. However, it is not enough, and the Council of Europe wants to go further, especially regarding how to help those victims. That’s why the member states of the Council of Europe led a campaign against domestic violence and violence toward women. They shed light on the situation in Europe and encouraged exchanges on best practices to prevent and combat violence toward women.

Another need surfaced from this: a tool to make member states comply with effective prevention measures and provide better services for victims. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe approved writing such a document. It had to include essential points, such as combating and preventing domestic violence, protecting and helping victims, and eliminating all forms of violence against women. The Parliamentary Assembly’s recommendations were also taken into account, especially those concerning children—taking action to fight against sex-based violations of human rights, including kidnapping women and girls. Other recommendations dealt with child marriage and children who witness domestic violence. That document became the Istanbul Convention.

Children in the Istanbul Convention
It is important to highlight children as they are mentioned in the Parliamentary Assembly’s recommendations.

1. Recommendation 1723 of 2005: Child Marriages
This recommendation emphasizes the fact that children or minors can be forced into marriage, engagements, or promised marriage through traditions or customs. They often feel pressure from their family. Almost 250 million women got married when they were children.

2. Recommendation 1868 of 2009: Taking Action to Fight Against Sex-Based Violations of Human Rights, Including Kidnapping of Women and Girls
Kidnapping, illegal confinement, forced return to one’s home country, FGM, or slavery: thousands of girls and women are vulnerable to these types of violence, usually perpetrated by their own family. Women and girls from immigrant communities are the most often affected.

3. Recommendation 1905 of 2010: Children Witnessing Domestic Violence:
Children are exposed to dangers within their own homes every day. Even if children are not direct victims of domestic violence, they can witness it. This type of situation is too often ignored, although it does have an impact on children. This pattern of domestic violence can be transferred across generations.

The Istanbul Convention in brief
The Istanbul Convention has been ratified by 14 countries, filling large gaps that existed in the protection of women’s rights in Europe, as well as for men, the elderly, and children. The document establishes legally binding standards to help meet its objectives, protecting the victims of all forms of violence, preventing violence, prosecuting perpetrators, and eliminating violence toward all people, including children.

Written by Sarah Lucek

Translated by Allison M. Charette

Proofread by Carolyn Yohn