A child is sexually abused every 27 hours in Cyprus, a statement by the children’s rights commissioner’s office said on Wednesday, a day ahead of the European day for the protection of children against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.

November 18 marks “a collective effort to show zero tolerance” to sexual abuse against children, commissioner Despo Michaelidou wrote.

According to a study conducted by Hope for Children on the impact of coronavirus measures on children’s rights, in 2020 there were 324 reports of sexual abuse against children in Cyprus.

“Those are just the children who dared to speak up instead of keeping a secret they were convinced to keep by an abuser they knew, admired, or loved.”

The statement added that coronavirus restrictions have limited children’s support systems, “replacing all the ways and spaces where they could ask for help into faceless internet platforms” and trapping children in abusive environments.

In the six months elapsing between January and June 2021, 241 reports of sexual abuse against children were made, making up for 83 per cent of all cases reported in 2019.

“So that this day is not devoid of meaning, we need to be vigilant and rise up to our obligation to uncover and report every case that comes to our attention, but also to properly educate our children so they can recognise suspicious behaviours and feel empowered to speak up.”

At the same time, the commissioner called for coordinated action by all competent authorities and state services, primarily to ensure children’s best interests at all stages of the process: from investigating a complaint and expediting legal processes, to providing support to victims and families and immediately introducing comprehensive sex education at all school levels.

To get the message forward, between midnight on Wednesday and midnight on Thursday, the commissioner will be joined by supporters of the cause on Facebook and Instagram, with a post made every 27 minutes to symbolise the average of 27 hours elapsing between each instance of child sexual abuse in Cyprus.

“’Not even one’ will be our motto, until the day we reach none,” the statement said.