Keeping Children Safe Online

The rise of the Internet has delivered new levels of creativity, innovation and informed generations, especially among children and young people. Even so, this connectivity has also become a vehicle for extreme harm. Although children have long been exposed to violence and exploitation, the Internet and new technologies have changed the scale, form and impact of the abuse of young people everywhere. Thanks to the generous contributions of the United Kingdom Home Office, Human Dignity Foundation, and the Oak Foundation, the End Violence Fund supports projects around the world that protect children from online exploitation and abuse.

Children’s lives and experiences are increasingly being shaped in the digital world. More than 200,000 children go online every day, and 800 million are actively using social media. Children's lives are now being shaped behind a screen, and every day, children are diving deeper into platforms not designed with their safety in mind. As they ingest information, build friendships and make connections, disturbing trends are emerging that threaten children of all ages — even those too young to speak. 

The Internet has made child sexual exploitation and abuse available on-demand; the ever-increasing use of live-streaming, grooming and sextortion has made the digital sphere a difficult place to be a child. The explosion of smartphone technology around the world has only catalysed this threat, and the resulting statistics are incredibly alarming. 

A group of boys gather around an iPad.

The numbers of violent and sexual images and videos of children uploaded or live streamed on the Internet and Dark Web are increasing at an incredible speed. For example: the number of reported photos and images received by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children grew nearly tenfold in three years, from 1.1 million in 2014 to 10.2 million by 2017. This number almost doubled in 2018, with 18.4 million reports received in that year alone. The Internet Watch Foundation also reported that in 2017 alone, online photos and videos with sexual abuse of children increased 37 percent as compared to 2016.

The Global Threat Assessment conducted by the WeProtect Global Alliance cited that one of the many hidden Internet services dedicated to the abuse of infants and toddlers contained over 18,000 registered members, with another similar forum receiving over 23 million visits. Some studies show that younger children are at an even higher risk. A survey conducted by the Canadian Center for Child Protection indicates that 56 percent of the child abuse online began before the age of 4, and 42 percent were abused for more than 10 years. Reports received by the Internet Watch Foundation show that in the United Kingdom, half of online child sexual abuse cases involve children under age 10, and one-third of those images involve rape and sexual torture.

Since its inception in 2016, the End Violence Fund has invested in finding solutions to these problems. The Fund supports 37 grantee partners to rescue victims of online sexual abuse and support survivors; establish reporting hotlines; contribute to behaviour change and awareness raising among both adults and children; strengthen law enforcement and legislative reform dealing with these issues; and develop industry solutions within the technology sector.

In the Philippines, for example, the Fund has supported the International Justice Mission to rescue 116 children from situations of online sexual exploitation and abuse, and provide those children with after-care services to help them recover and rebuild their lives. And around the world, the Fund has strengthened the work of Thorn, which helps identify child victims and investigate individuals who produce child sexual abuse materials on the dark web. In less than a year, Thorn's efforts have identified over 800 children and 450 perpetrators in 37 countries.

Children in Georgia gather around a computer.

 

A girl in Brazil looks at her phone.

The Fund is seeking further investment to advance work in this field at the national, regional and global levels. Its work in this space seeks to augment national commitments to the WePROTECT Statements of Action, specifically by investing in projects to develop or advance a country’s own national response, guided by the Model National Response framework. It does so by complementing broader efforts to end violence in countries, including the drive towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Regional grants go toward generating awareness of the threat in countries, and commitments from countries to develop national plans. Globally, the Fund seeks to invest in solutions that can be adapted across multiple contexts.

Specifically, in 2019, the Fund’s latest funding round will focus on leveraging existing and new technologies to prevent and combat online child sexual exploitation and abuse. It will be officially launched in August or September of this year.

Violence against children does not begin or end online. By investing in catalytic solutions, the Fund seeks to deliver on the promise of the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children – a world in which every child grows up free from violence.

A child uses his phone.

Image Credits

Header: © UNICEF/UN017636/Ueslei Marcelino
The issue: © UNICEF/UN014968/Estey
The response: © UNICEF/UNI109403/Pirozzi
The future: © UNICEF/UN017601/Ueslei Marcelino