Victim-centred laws ‘paramount’ to combat online sexual abuse against children

© UNICEF/Dusko Miljanic Young girl in Podgorica, Montenegro, sits in front of a laptop holding her head in her hands.

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.

Comprehensive national strategies are urgently needed to prevent child sexual abuse online and other Internet issues for children, independent UN human rights experts said on Tuesday, Safer Internet Day.

Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, UN Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, expressed concern over an unprecedented spike in reports of child sexual abuse material online, noting the scale and complexity of the problem and the enormous harm it is causing.

“By virtue of their commitments under several human rights treaties, States have the primary responsibility to establish a comprehensive legal framework and strategies to protect children in the digital environment, encompassing the early detection of cases, appropriate services, child-friendly reporting mechanisms and effective remedies,” the experts said. “Victim-centred laws and policies are of paramount importance and perpetrators must be held to account.”

800 million children use social media.

According to the experts, “States must ensure that the IT [information technology] industry has mechanisms to detect, report and block child sexual exploitation material”.

They must establish tools to monitor the hosting of child abuse materials within their jurisdictions. They must also ensure that the private sector is effectively collaborating with law enforcement, to guarantee that their networks and services are not misused for criminal purposes and to gather evidence for criminal proceedings.”

Prioritize prevention

Ms. de Boer-Buquicchio called for the IT industry to provide more resources and technical expertise to curb abuse online.

She also pointed out that “financial coalitions” against child pornography have significantly impacted the detection of abuse and must be expanded.

The experts noted that as digital technologies provide anonymity to generate, host and consume child sexual abuse materials, the Internet industry is uniquely placed to act as a conduit for reporting suspicious behaviour, blocking inappropriate material, and reinforcing key safety messages.

“Prevention must be prioritized, including through education programmes and awareness-raising campaigns targeting children,” the experts stated.

They observed the need to “act together, better and faster”, to end online violence against children by 2030, “ensuring that digital media are not used to perpetrate crimes against children”.

Tackling the issue

Children themselves are among the most important actors in combating the issue.

“They must be involved and empowered to act as drivers of change, with particular attention to the most vulnerable, to ensure no child is left behind,” said Najat Maalla M’jid, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children.

And the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy Joseph Cannataci said it was “the responsibility of both the State and the private sector to educate children and teenagers about safety on social media platforms and the Internet”.

Potential for good

The experts also noted the Internet’s enormous potential for good. Ms. de Boer-Buquicchio underscored the need to “embrace technology through a child-centred perspective by prompting an empowering, inclusive and safe digital agenda for children”.

“We must integrate the issue of new technologies and their impact on children’s rights into existing initiatives and processes, including the Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030,” she concluded.

Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

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