EU’s proposed new legislation promises a brave new (online) world


Online child sexual exploitation and abuse (CSEA) is a real and growing danger. A decade ago, for instance, there were less than one million reports of suspected child abuse material. In 2021, that number climbed to 29 million. These reports contain over 85 million pieces of suspected child abuse material, images and videos. The EU alone witnessed an increase of 5980% of reports between 2010 and 2020. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. 

With one child going online for the first time every half a second, societies across the world have a collective responsibility to prevent online violence against children and ensure that the digital world is a space where children can learn, have fun and form positive networks safely. The change, however, must be led by Governments and technology companies. Relying on voluntary action to address online CSEA has proven insufficient, and we are seeing much-needed action by Governments globally through the adoption of progressive legislation in this area.

A new law to protect children:

The European Union is the latest to join a series of progressive legislations by Governments to prevent online violence against children – their new proposed legislation presents an exceptional opportunity for the EU to set high standards to protect children online through policy action, which is key in ensuring a safe digital environment. This leadership of the EU will have a positive impact in other regions of the world.

The new legislation proposes three main things:

  • Make detection, reporting and removal of child sexual abuse material mandatory for all internet service providers and platforms that provide a service or have users in the EU. 
  • Increase focus on prevention measures –particularly the use of grooming detection tools and deterrence mechanisms that prevent online CSEA, as well as classifiers to detect first-generation or ‘new’ abuse material.
  • Set up a European Centre to fight and prevent child sexual abuse, which will play a key role in ensuring that reporting translates into children rescued and perpetrators prosecuted by helping law enforcement in the Member States investigate the reports and by supporting and empowering victims.

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, highlighted this new proposed legislation at the Together to #ENDviolence Leaders’ Event – one of the most diverse and influential groups that have ever come together solely to focus on ending violence against children. She outlined the action to prevent and respond to online child sexual abuse through new mandatory rules, robust safeguards and a strong enforcement capacity.

This new European legislation is one piece of our global commitment to protect human rights and the rights of the child. We are building a safer Internet, and we are acting together to end violence against children in all its cruel forms.

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, at the Together to #ENDviolence Leaders’ Event 

Effective legislation is key to protecting children by mandating and incentivising child protection. Although technology companies have a range of tools to prevent harm before it happens, we need to create the right conditions for companies to prioritise those efforts and put child safety at the top of their online safety agendas. Our digital world is not designed with child safety in mind, but strong legislation calling for effective regulation can help ensure safety by design in digital products and services for children.

End Violence Partnership’s Safe Online initiative has been drawing attention to the need for aligned and decisive action by Governments and tech companies in order to drive change urgently needed for children. Our work at the global, regional and national levels in over 75 countries has brought to light new knowledge and evidence on what works – especially through our Disrupting Harm project and the ground-breaking work that we do with the Tech Coalition Research Fund. Our partnerships with grantees on the ground demonstrate the need for strong systems by focusing on strong regulatory and policy frameworks.

The new EU legislation will help to address some of these pressing concerns and make it obligatory for technology companies to play a more proactive role in ensuring a safer digital world for children.

Support the new laws:

To support the proposed legislation, Safe Online has joined a group of key partners in launching a campaign #ChildSafetyOnlineNow. Learn more about the campaign and find out how you can support it.


Image: Annie Spratt / Unsplash