On 18 November – the European Day for the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Violence, more than 100 international civil society organizations call on EU politicians to continue working to prevent and combat sexual abuse of children and to make the Internet a safe place for children with effective solutions that have real results to protect children online. National Network for Children joins the initiative and supports the letter.
The legislative process has already started and the European Parliament is working on a proposal from the European Commission for a REGULATION and general rules to prevent and combat sexual abuse of children.
Highlights from the letter sent to EU politicians on 18 November and from the EC proposal:
At least one in five children is a victim of sexual abuse during childhood, the document of the European Parliament says. A 2021 global survey found that more than one in three respondents had been asked to do something of a sexually explicit nature online during their childhood, and over half had experienced some form of online sexual abuse.
Children with disabilities are at higher risk of sexual abuse: up to 68% of girls and 30% of boys with an intellectual disability or developmental disorder are sexually abused before their 18th birthday.
Child sexual abuse material is the product of physical child sexual abuse. The detection and reporting of such materials is necessary to prevent their production and dissemination and is a vital means of identifying and assisting victims.
The pandemic has exposed children to significantly higher rates of unwanted online dating.
Despite the fact that child sexual abuse and sexual exploitation and child sexual abuse material are criminalized across the EU, it is clear that Europe is still failing to protect children from becoming victims of sexual abuse, and that online aspect of this problem presents a particular challenge.
For this reason, on 24 July 2020, the European Commission adopted the EU Strategy for a more effective fight against child sexual abuse, which sets out a comprehensive response to the growing threat both in real life and online, by improving prevention, investigation and victim support.
On 24 March 2021, the European Commission adopted a comprehensive EU strategy on the rights of the child, which proposes strengthened measures to protect children against all forms of violence, including online abuse. It also calls on companies to continue their efforts to detect, report and remove illegal online content, including online child sexual abuse, from their platforms and services.
In this context, providers of hosting services or interpersonal communication services play a particularly important role. Their responsible and conscientious behavior is essential for a safe, predictable and reliable online environment and for the exercise of the fundamental rights guaranteed in the Charter. The proliferation of child pornography and child sexual abuse videos, which has increased dramatically with the development of the digital world, perpetuates the harm experienced by victims, and through these services, offenders have also discovered new avenues to access and exploit children.
Some providers already voluntarily use technologies to detect, report and remove online child sexual abuse from their services. However, the measures taken by providers varied widely, with the majority of reports coming from a few providers and a significant number taking no action. The quality and relevance of the reports that EU law enforcement agencies receive also vary widely. Organizations such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (“NCMEC”), to which US providers are required by US law to report when they become aware of child sexual abuse in their services, received over 21 million reports in 2020 , of which over 1 million are related to EU member states. The latest reported figure for 2021 shows further growth, approaching the 30 million mark.
Despite significant contributions from some providers, voluntary action has proved insufficient to address the abuse of online services for the purpose of child sexual abuse. As a result, several Member States have started the preparation and adoption of national rules to combat online sexual abuse of children. This leads to the development of different national requirements, which in turn increases the fragmentation of the Digital Single Market for services. In these circumstances, Union rules on the detection, reporting and removal of online child sexual abuse are needed to complement the Digital Services Act, remove existing barriers to the Digital Single Market and prevent the dissemination of such material.
The European Parliament therefore aims to create a clear and harmonized regulatory framework to prevent and combat online sexual abuse of children, providing legal certainty to providers regarding their responsibilities to assess and reduce risks and, where necessary, to detect, report and remove such violence from their services in a manner consistent with the fundamental rights set out in the Charter and as general principles of Union law.
The proposal plans creation of a European Center for the Prevention and Counteraction of Child Sexual Abuse (“EU Centre”), which will facilitate and support the implementation of this Regulation. The EU Center will establish, maintain and manage databases of indicators of online child sexual abuse that providers will need to use to comply with detection obligations. These databases should be ready before the implementation of the regulation. In order to ensure this, the Commission has already provided funding to Member States to help prepare the databases. The EU Center should assist the competent national authorities, provide support for victims in relation to the obligations of providers. Its central function will be to support collaboration and the exchange of information and expertise, including for the purposes of evidence-based policy-making and prevention, which is a priority for the Commission on Child Sexual Abuse.