Safe Online

Today’s children are more interconnected than ever before. With over four billion internet users across the world, the limits of children’s experiences are no longer bound by their bedroom doors, their classroom walls, or the borders of their nation. Unfortunately, the same can be said for the rest of the world – including those seeking to harm children. As the Internet’s reach grows, every day, the number of children at risk of online sexual exploitation and abuse multiplies.

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. Since 2016, End Violence Fund has invested $32 million in 37 projects focused on preventing and eliminating online child sexual exploitation and abuse in over 50 countries. 

In addition, End Violence is increasingly contributing to global policy discussions on child online safety with governments, the technology industry, regulators, security agencies and others, on intersections including connectivity and safety; privacy, security and protection; and technology and human rights. We are also engaging with major players in the technology field, ensuring that in their business decisions, children are considered first – not as an afterthought.

Learn about End Violence's newest funding round here.

Every half a second, a child
makes their first click online.

Across the world, children's lives are being shaped in two worlds — the physical and the digital — but more often than not, those worlds blend into one. 

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. 

With all of its many advantages and opportunities, one of the unforeseen consequences of the rise of the internet and digital technologies has been an exponential growth in online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (CSEA), especially through the illicit generation and sharing of child sexual abuse images and videos. More than 200,000 children go online every day, and 800 million are actively using social media. Couple that with the fact that at any given time, an estimated 750,000 individuals are looking to connect with children for sexual purposes online. The explosion of smartphone technology around the world has only catalysed this threat, and the resulting statistics are incredibly alarming. 

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Child sexual exploitation online:
an ever-growing threat

The numbers of violent and sexual images and videos of children uploaded or live streamed on the internet and Dark Web are increasing at a devastating speed. After nearly disappearing in the 90s, the spread of child sexual abuse material exploded with the rise of the internet, while child sex trafficking increased with exposure to a greater market online.

A decade ago, there were less than one million reports of child abuse material. In 2019, that number climbed to 70 million, a nearly 50 per cent increase over 2018 figures. Many more remain undetected.

Significantly higher number of child sexual abuse material remains undetected, including those on the Dark Web. The expansion of the Dark Web, which is only accessible through specialized software, is another facilitator of online child sexual abuse.

From 2013 to 2018, the number of Dark Web users increased from one to four million. Users of the Dark Web can remain anonymous and, for the most part, untraceable. Because of this, many of the worst forms of child abuse happen through the Dark Web. More than 80 per cent of internet traffic on the Dark Web is generated by visits to websites that offer CSAM, according to a study of “hidden service” websites conducted by the University of Portsmouth. In 2018, 2.88 million accounts were registered globally across the 10 most harmful Dark Web sites focused on child sexual exploitation and abuse online. 

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The younger the child, the more at-risk online

Studies show that younger children are at an even higher risk of online sexual exploitation, with 89 per cent of victims between 3 and 13 years old. 

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.

In addition, 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. And, 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.

I. WE INVEST

Since its inception in 2016, the End Violence Fund has invested $32 million in 37 projects focused on preventing and eliminating online child sexual exploitation and abuse in over 50 countries. This includes a large-scale research project, Disrupting Harm, that is engaging three organisations to better understand how digital technology facilitates the sexual abuse and exploitation of children and adolescents.

Explore the work of our grantees here, and click the tab to the right – THE RESULTS – to learn more about their impact.  

OUR LATEST INVESTMENT

End Violence's latest round of investment centred on solutions that leverage existing and new technologies to prevent and combat online child sexual exploitation and abuse. Through this $13 million open call, the Fund will explore scaling and adapting existing solutions, along with developing new technologies that use tools like artificial intelligence, machine learning, data science, blockchain, virtual reality and other innovative solutions that have the potential to enhance detection and response to online child sexual exploitation and abuse and prevent known and emerging threats.

We are looking forward to welcoming our latest cohort of grantees into the expanding Fund community in August of 2020.

Learn more about our latest funding round.

PROJECT PROTECT

In 2020, the End Violence Partnership teamed up with the world’s biggest technology companies to support a new initiative – Project Protect – to end violence against children online. Project Protect is an initiative led by the Technology Coalition, a group of 18 tech companies including Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple and Twitter. The End Violence Partnership is working with the Coalition on the research aspect of this project, while the WePROTECT Global Alliance is working to strengthen transparency and accountability across the industry.

The project aims to push innovation in technology to detect child sexual abuse content, encourage more collective action toward the issue, and drive additional funding toward the prevention programming. In addition, the project has a focus on funding independent research, sharing information, and boosting transparency and accountability across the technology industry.

Learn more about our engagement with Project Protect.

II. WE CONNECT

End Violence doesn't just provide financial support to our grantees – we provide platforms for exchange, learning and collaboration as well. 

THE FIRST GRANTEE CONVENING

After three years of grant-making, the Fund held its first grantee convening from 8-10 December 2019 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The grantee convening provided a platform for organisations across the world to come together, share their resources and experiences, and strengthen the field of child online safety. Nearly 50 individuals attended the convening, representing 38 grantee organisations from 33 projects.

To learn more about the grantee convening, watch the video above and read the recap report, which highlights the learnings, solutions and challenges brought to light over the course of the event.

ONGOING KNOWLEDGE EXCHANGE WEBINARS

Since the Fund's inception, we have held digital events for grantees to learn from each other from wherever they are across the globe. In June 2020, End Violence held its 10th knowledge exchange event, which gathered 117 individuals from partner and grantee organisations around the world.

Learn more about the latest event, and access the learnings, challenges and solutions experienced by our grantees.

III. WE MOBILISE

End Violence is increasingly coordinating with key actors across the child online safety ecosystem, pushing for children's right to a safe, healthy online experience through collaboration, advocacy and partnership. In addition, End Violence is an active player in global policy discussions involving:

Connectivity and safety. We bring a unique perspective from the field and make broader links with violence against children in multiple forms, including through membership of the Internet Policy and Governance (ITU) and the UNESCO Broadband Commission's working group on child online safety. 

Privacy, security and protection. As the discussions around regulation, responsibility and the need for privacy are evolving, End Violence is championing children's rights as paramount in business decisions that will impact on the ability to protect children from online harm. 

Frontier technology and human rights. We are a member of a newly convened, diverse group of stakeholders working on developing global guidance on artificial intelligence and children's rights. As part of this engagement, we are looking into the principles, policies and mechanisms within new and frontier technology, ensuring they do not exacerbate harmful norms, inequalities and outcomes that drive violence against children.

Recent highlights include: 

Improve reporting, investigation and prosecution of online child sexual exploitation and abuse cases 

The Fund's investments through the Safe Online portfolio strengthened the systems to prevent, report, investigate and prosecute cases of online child sexual exploitation and abuse in various countries. 

Recent highlights in this area include:

  • 2,528 child victims of online child sexual exploitation and abuse were been identified and rescued
     
  • 1,201 offenders were identified and arrested, including Europol's most-wanted sex offender
     
  • 14 reporting mechanisms, such as portals or helplines, were established and strengthened in over 11 countries

Learn more from a grantee involved in this work through the short video below.

Generate knowledge and evidence to inform programming and influence policy and advocacy  

Another focus of the Fund's efforts centers on generating knowledge and evidence on online child sexual exploitation and abuse to inform programming in the field and influence policy and programme priorities of governments at all levels.

Recent highlights from this area include:

  • The Council of Europe published a baseline mapping of all 47 Member States on policy, legislation and practices on online child sexual exploitation and abuse, and a comparative review of mechanisms for collective action to tackle the issue. These studies informed and contributed to the ratification of the Lanzarote Convention by Armenia and Azerbaijan.
     
  • Congress in Peru approved a legislative bill to increase sentences for people who produce and consume child sexual abuse material to 15 years.
     
  • The Albanian Council of Ministers adopted a bylaw to protect children from harmful and illegal content online that introduced for the first time a detailed legal provision on the protection of children online. 

Expand and improve the quality of services for child victims of online child sexual exploitation and abuse

The Fund's investments aimed to strengthen systems and equip practitioners with the necessary skills to respond to cases of online child sexual exploitation and abuse in a timely, child-friendly and gender-sensitive manner, and to ensure rehabilitation and recovery of child victims. 

Recent highlights in this area include:

  • 12,042 government officials (including law enforcement and judicial officers) were engaged in capacity-building activities to support survivors of online violence
     
  • Standard operating procedures (SOPs) were either developed or updated by numerous child service provider organisations and institutions, including a new model for child testimony in Mexico

Learn more from a grantee involved in this work through the short video below.

Strengthen cooperation and policy development at national and regional levels  

The Fund's online investments led to significant progress in 2019 on national and regional engagement and cooperation to tackle online violence. In various countries, a multi-stakeholder body was established and many of them developed a national plan of action to tackle online violence. 

Recent highlights in this area include:

  • The South Asia Initiative for Ending Violence against Children (SAIEVAC) adopted a Regional Action Plan to address online child sexual exploitation and abuse in eight countries in South Asia.
     
  • The Government of Rwanda adopted the Child Online Protection policy, along with a five-year implementation plan developed with technical support from the University of East London and in partnership with the 5Rights Foundation and the University of Rwanda.
     
  • Heads of State at the 35th ASEAN Summit adopted the Declaration on the Protection of Children from All Forms of Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in ASEAN.

Engage industry and media to prevent and end online child sexual exploitation and abuse

Industry and the media have a critical role to play to ensure children are safe online, and many grantees are piloting new approaches to facilitate their engagement.

Recent highlights in this area include:

  • In total, 2,576 industry and 262 media representatives have benefitted from trainings or education activities on child online safety through consultations and events organised by Fund grantees. 
     
  • In the Philippines, Plan International delivered trainings on child online safety to 1,387 internet café and piso-net operators. Of these, 1,170 signed a code of conduct with the community to regulate their role and operations in preventing and responding to online violence against children.
     
  • UNICEF Madagascar’s partnership with Orange Madagascar enabled the non-governmental organisation Youth First to send messages on child online safety to 145,000 clients free of charge, and the mobile operator committed to invest in solutions to block sites harmful to children.  

Learn more from a grantee involved in this work through the short video below.

Ensure child participation in combatting online child sexual exploitation and abuse

Grantee partners across the world work to ensure that children have opportunities to share their experiences and express their opinions, and that these are considered by relevant stakeholders so that policies and programming can be informed by real life practices.   

Recent highlights in this area include:

  • UNICEF Uganda conducted a U-Report poll on child online safety reaching 4,057 child and youth participants between 15-24 years old. Sixty-one per cent of respondents said that online abuse between young people happens mostly on social media, and 40 per cent said that they had been a victim of online violence or cyber-bullying. The findings were shared with the Government and used to inform advocacy efforts.  
     
  • More than 100 children and adolescents became digital activists as part of a program implemented by Save the Children Peru. They have been actively promoting awareness through communication campaigns reaching 4,800 children and young people, in addition to pursuing dialogue with authorities. As a result of these efforts, 23 authorities of Leoncio Prado province signed a commitment to prioritise online CSEA. 

Build resilience, enhance digital education and awareness raising, and address social norms   

Across the world, End Violence grantees are working to increase the knowledge of children, caregivers and communities to help them stay safe from online violence.

Recent highlights in this area include:

  • By December 2019, 362,943 children and 82,767 community participants (including parents, teachers, community and social workers) were engaged in digital education and awareness raising activities on online safety through Safe Online grantee initiatives. 
     
  • Initiatives also reached over 10 million people via advocacy and information campaigns covering issues related to online child sexual exploitation on news media outlets, publications and social media. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an unprecedented rise in screen time. School closures and strict containment measures mean more and more families are relying on technology and digital solutions to keep children learning, entertained and connected to the outside world, but not all children have the necessary knowledge, skills and resources to keep themselves safe online.

Spending more time on virtual platforms can leave children vulnerable to online sexual exploitation and grooming as predators look to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic. A lack of face-to-face contact with friends and partners may lead to heightened risk-taking, such as sending sexualized images, while increased and unstructured time online may expose children to potentially harmful and violent content, as well as a greater risk of cyberbullying.

End Violence, together with its partners UNICEF, ITU, UNESCO, UNODC, WePROTECT Global Alliance, WHO, and World Childhood Foundation USA, released a technical note and a resource pack to support governments, ICT industries, educators and parents to be alert, take urgent measures to mitigate potential risks, and ensure children’s online experiences are safe and positive during COVID-19.

Click the buttons below for resources on specific topics.

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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