Panel Discusses the International Framework and Challenges Relating to Information and Communications Technologies and Child Sexual Exploitation
GENEVA (7 March 2016) - The Human Rights Council this morning opened its annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child, whose theme this year is information and communications technologies and child sexual exploitation. The morning panel discussion focused on information and communications technologies and child sexual exploitation: international framework and challenges.
Choi Kyonglim, President of the Human Rights Council, said that the objective of the meeting was to discuss different national, regional and international initiatives to empower children through information and communications technologies, and to enhance their protection from sexual exploitation. The aim was to share good practices and to identify a holistic approach to the enjoyment of the rights of the child through information and communication technologies.
Kate Gilmore, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that many States were as yet without an adequate legislative framework to facilitate the effective investigation and prosecution of sexual exploitation and abuse of children. Given the borderless nature of child online sexual abuse, intergovernmental cooperation was key, as were international partnerships, including with academia and the private sector. The answer was not to deprive children of their access nor disproportionately curtail their freedom in the virtual world.
John Carr, Founding Director of Internet Watch Foundation and moderator, presented an animated video about the experiences of children about sexual abuse and exploitation, which was made for the Annual Day on the Rights of the Child. The development of the world wide web had triggered a number of unforeseen and disastrous consequences for children, in addition to vast advantages, he stated.
Benyam Dawit Mezmur, Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, noted that the Convention on the Rights of the Child did not refer explicitly to new technologies and the Internet. A balance between the empowerment and the protection of children in the online world had to be found. It was of concern that most efforts focused on protection at the expense of participation, and that some countries had used the cover of child protection as a justification for blocking or monitoring public Internet access.
Maud De Boer-Buquicchio, Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, noted that loopholes in legislation did not expressly prohibit and criminalise online child abuse related content, which hampered the work of law enforcement. Corporate social responsibility was fundamental and all stakeholders needed to work with the private sector to fight against the sexual exploitation of children.
Ernie Allen, Chairperson of the International Advisory Board of the United Kingdom initiative WePROTECT, said that the sexual exploitation of children was a global problem which required global action and cooperation. Total anonymity, he said, was a prescription for disaster. Individual privacy could be maximized while still balancing it against the rights of children to be free from abuse and exploitation.
Preetam Maloor, Acting Head of the Corporate Strategy Division of the International Telecommunications Union, said that the International Telecommunications Union had launched the “Child Protection Initiative” in 2008, which engaged partners from all sectors of the global community in an international dialogue through forums such as the Working Group on Child Online Protection.
During the ensuing discussion, States shared concerns regarding the sexual exploitation of children, which had been facilitated by the evolution of new technologies. They stressed the need for cooperation between States in order to address the transnational nature of these crimes, including through sharing good practices and information. They also supported the creation of coordinating mechanisms in order for States to harmonize their legislation. States also pointed at the role of the private sector in combatting sexual exploitation online, and of parents and care-givers in educating children on the dangers they could face on the Internet. Speakers insisted however that access to information and communications technologies remained an important aspect of the realization of the rights of the child, and should therefore not be disproportionately restricted in the name of combatting sexual exploitation.
Speaking during the debate were European Union, Kuwait on behalf of the Arab Group, South Africa on behalf of the African Group, Dominican Republic on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, United States, Estonia, Ethiopia, Mexico, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Indonesia, China, Russian Federation, Sweden on behalf of the Nordic countries, Israel, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Ecuador, Sierra Leone, Spain, Australia, Philippines, Austria, Brazil, Egypt, Canada on behalf of the Groupe Francophone, Libya, Greece, Netherlands, Qatar, India, Tunisia, Georgia, Chile, Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, Peru, Ireland, Senegal, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Colombia and Republic of Korea.
Also taking the floor were Terre des Hommes Fédération Internationale, Alsalam Foundation, Human Rights Advocates, Plan International in a joint statement with Defence for Children International and Save the Children, and International Lawyers Organization.
The Human Rights Council will resume its annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child at 3 p.m. this afternoon, with another panel discussion that will focus on combatting and preventing child sexual exploitation through information and communications technologies – role of information and communications technologies, multi-stakeholders approach and good practices. At noon, the Council will hold a clustered interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt on the full enjoyment of human rights, and the Special Rapporteur on the right to food.
The Council has before it the Report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on information and communications technology and child sexual exploitation (A/HRC/31/34).
The Council has before it a corrigendum to the Report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on information and communications technology and child sexual exploitation (A/HRC/31/34/Corr.1).
CHOI KYONGLIM, President of the Human Rights Council, said that the objective of the meeting was to discuss different national, regional and international initiatives to empower children through information and communication technologies, and to enhance their protection. Good practices and challenges would be shared on the issue of protection against child sexual exploitation both online and offline. The aim was to identify a holistic approach to the enjoyment of the rights of the child through information and communication technologies.
KATE GILMORE, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that when users distorted the access, transparency and privacy that the Internet provided, for the purposes of exploitation, children were as vulnerable in the virtual world as in the physical world. The report before the Council today, which built on the work of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children, the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and the Committee on the Rights of the Child made concrete recommendations for the fight against sexual exploitation online. She described the ways that exploitation could take place online, such as child sexual abuse live streaming, and reviewed the specific provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child which placed prohibitions on such abuse. Many States were as yet without an adequate legislative framework to facilitate the effective investigation and prosecution of sexual exploitation and abuse of children, she said. Given the borderless nature of child online sexual abuse, intergovernmental cooperation was key, as were international partnerships, including with academia and the private sector. Turning to issues of protection, she said that promoting children’s rights required enabling them to contribute directly to their own protection, as even very young children nowadays had a sophisticated understanding of technologies. The answer was not to deprive children of their access nor disproportionately curtail their freedom in the virtual world. The panel would enable a dynamic and fruitful debate that placed the rights of the child at the heart of a human rights based enjoyment of the expanding virtual world.
Statements by the Moderator and Panellists
JOHN CARR, Founding Director of Internet Watch Foundation, moderating the discussion, announced the screening of an animated video about the experiences of children with sexual abuse and exploitation, which was made for the Annual Day on the Rights of the Child. The development of the world wide web had triggered a number of unforeseen and disastrous consequences for children, in addition to vast advantages, he stated.
BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, noted that the Convention on the Rights of the Child did not refer explicitly to new technologies and the Internet. There was a lack of a systematic implementation of the necessary legislation and subsequent action at the national level. Digital media had provided children with vast opportunities to learn, participate, play, work and socialize. But, at the same time, children faced risks. Therefore, a balance between the empowerment and the protection of children in the online world had to be found. Vulnerability to sexual exploitation for children offline almost certainly translated into vulnerability online. The Internet had greatly expanded the volume of child abuse images in circulation. The existing legislation was often said to apply equally to the online domain, but in practice that could be difficult to implement and enforce. It was of concern that most efforts focused on protection, arguably at the expense of participation, and some countries had used the cover of child protection as a justification for blocking or monitoring public Internet access. The fast-changing, highly complex and transnational nature of socio-technological infrastructures also challenged policy makers. It was problematic that the Internet was largely blind to age, treating children and adults in the same way, and it so rarely treated children according to their evolving capacities. The notion of child-friendly companies should be further promoted.
MAUD DE BOER-BUQUICCHIO, Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, noted that the amount of child abuse material online had reached unprecedented levels thanks to new technologies. New technologies were a significant intermediary in the demand for the sexual exploitation of children. Emerging patterns such as self-generated sexual material had given rise to complex challenges. There had been several cases in certain jurisdictions of children investigated for allegedly producing child abuse material, who risked prosecution as sex offenders. An exemption from prosecution depending on the circumstances of each case should be envisaged by the legislator. The live streaming of child abuse material was another abhorrent development with increasingly younger children being exploited. Live streaming of child abuse presented particular challenges in respect to law enforcement since the streaming was generally international, across different jurisdictions. Loopholes in legislation that did not expressly prohibit and criminalise accessing or viewing such material also hampered the work of law enforcement. Virtual currencies had enabled perpetrators to purchase child abuse material and sexually exploit children with increased anonymity. Also, the Dark Web and peer-to-peer connections had created anonymous spaces open to all kinds of abuses, including the exchange of child abuse material and the solicitation of minors for exploitative purposes. Corporate social responsibility was thus fundamental and all concerned stakeholders needed to work with the private sector to fight against the sexual exploitation of children.
ERNIE ALLEN, Chairperson of the International Advisory Board of the United Kingdom initiative WePROTECT and Founder, former President and Chief Executive Officer of the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children, said that technology had changed every aspects of our lives, mostly for the better. However, technology also had a dark side, as it had facilitated the sexual exploitation of children. This problem was a global one, and to solve it required global action and cooperation. Today, 56 countries, 20 technology companies and 16 major international organizations had signed on to WePROTECT, making a commitment to a multi-stakeholder approach to identifying and protecting victims, removing child sexual abuse material from the Internet, strengthening cooperation to track down perpetrators, bringing greater attention to prevention, and building awareness among policy makers and the general public. The goal was to change the way the world responded to this exploding problem. The potential offender population was much larger than ever imagined. Prior to the Internet, someone with sexual interest in children felt isolated; today he was part of a global community, and could interact and share images, fantasies, techniques and even real children with people with the same interests, all with virtual anonymity. Twenty-one per cent of the victims in these images were pubescent, and 79 per cent were prepubescent. In 84 per cent of the images, there was physical penetration of the child. Arrest and prosecution was always the priority, but efforts had to be made to ensure that images were removed from the Internet. Mr. Allen encouraged all companies worldwide to use Microsoft’s PhotoDNA in that regard. He said that he believed fervently in the right to individual privacy, but underlined the difference between privacy and anonymity. Total anonymity, he said, was a prescription for disaster. There had to be some limits. Individual privacy could be maximized while still balancing it against the rights of children to be free from abuse and exploitation.
PREETAM MALOOR, Acting Head of the Corporate Strategy Division of the International Telecommunications Union, said that in today’s world, everything depended on information and communications technologies. The International Telecommunications Union had for most of its 150-year history been a little known entity, but today it played an important role in ensuring the global coordination essential to building global services. The International Telecommunications Union strongly advocated for broadband Internet access as a tool for socio-economic development. With one in three Internet users in the world below the age of 18, the power to “unleash the true potential” of information and communication technology lay in the hands of children and young people. But they were also facing new and significant risks, including being exposed to inappropriate content or contact. The International Telecommunications Union had launched the “Child Protection Initiative” in 2008, which engaged partners from all sectors of the global community in an international dialogue through forums such as the Working Group on Child Online Protection. Another Working Group, on Broadband and Gender, had produced a paper looking at the rise in online harassment of women and girls, as well as possible remedies and actions which could be taken to address the issue. Child online protection needed to be part of a broader strategy to address information and communications technology related violence and exploitation. The role of governments and the private sector was critical. Children’s empowerment could only be ensured by promoting digital literacy and capacity building.
European Union said that States had to ensure that their national child protection systems were equipped to address online violence against children, and had to work closely together with private actors of the Internet industry to do so. Kuwait, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said that the Arab convention to combat computer crimes had opted for even more stringent measures to combat paedophilia, including possessing material which was harmful to morals. The challenges were international in scale and that meant that all countries needed to cooperate better. South Africa, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said that in line with existing international frameworks, it was of critical importance that States paid particular attention to the demand factor of child sexual exploitation in providing guidance on penalties that were proportionate to the gravity of the offence. Dominican Republic, speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, said that the rapid evolution of technologies was a real challenge for how far States could comply with their obligations, also asking the panellists how States could facilitate the socially responsible behaviour of companies. United States asked which concrete steps could be taken to improve information sharing, evidence sharing and coordination between States in the prevention of online sexual exploitation of children? Estonia detailed national initiatives aimed at keeping children and young people safe online, such as a hotline allowing people to report Internet material with content inappropriate for children.
Ethiopia noted that even though new technologies were necessary for children’s learning, they also needed to be monitored in order to prevent child abuse. What sets of coordination mechanisms could be introduced at the international level to that end? Mexico asked the panellists to elaborate on actions that could ensure international coherence rather than duplication of the work towards the protection of children from abuse through new technologies. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines noted that in 2010 the Government had ensured access to education and new technologies to everyone, and that it had provided a relevant regulatory and oversight system, including guidance for social media content. Indonesia shared the concern about child sexual exploitation online. Indonesia remained committed to strengthen national legal frameworks. It agreed that there was a need to balance between maximizing the potential of new technologies and minimizing the risks. China said that it had improved its national legal framework to protect the rights of the child, including strengthening the Penal Code with respect to trafficking and sale of children, as well as sexual exploitation and abuse of children. Russian Federation agreed there was a need for consistent and sustained efforts of all stakeholders to create an online environment safe for children. To that end the Government of Russia had introduced stronger sanctions for child pornography and prostitution through the use of the Internet.
Terre des Hommes Fédération Internationale said that urgent measures were required to review the mandate of law enforcement as well as the legal framework in which they operated to ensure that they would be able to fight webcam child sex tourism in an effective manner. Alsalam Foundation raised the issue of arbitrary detention, torture, and summary execution of children in Bahrain, and the systematic impunity for members of the police. Human Rights Advocates said that criminalizing children caused harm to the child and to society as a whole. Children faced severe conditions in adult detention facilities. Human Rights Advocates condemned juvenile imprisonment to life without parole and juvenile death penalty.
Replies by the Panellists
ERNIE ALLEN, Chairperson of the International Advisory Board of the United Kingdom initiative WePROTECT, said that the WePROTECT initiative had collaborated with Governments, the private sector and non-governmental organizations. It had discussed the idea of creating a permanent task force to address the greater consistency of policies on this issue. Information sharing had to be improved among countries to respond to the transnational nature of these crimes. More regionalized information sharing platforms had to be created.
MAUD DE BOER-BUQUICCHIO, Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, underlined the importance of establishing a permanent structure providing States with advice on how to address these crimes, exchange good practices and share challenges. She pointed at the variety of legislation on that regard, which led to challenges to international cooperation, extradition and prosecution. The permanent structure could contribute to harmonize legislation.
PREETAM MALOOR, Acting Head of the Corporate Strategy Division of the International Telecommunication Union, also underlined the importance of coordinating initiatives and identifying synergies through a dedicated mechanism. The private sector had to be included.
BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, said that the continuation of the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its adaptation to new challenges required its continued interpretation. He also supported the creation of a mechanism for international and regional cooperation. He underlined the importance of data collection, which would enable States to measure progress achieved. National institutions had to be empowered in that regard. Information sharing needed to include children’s views on how to address problems affecting them. The implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals would provide a good opportunity for States to coordinate efforts.
Sweden, speaking on behalf of Nordic countries, said it was clear that the sexual exploitation of girls, who made up the majority of victims, was rooted in gender based discrimination, and that education and awareness raising to change perceptions and norms of masculinity and male sexuality were important to prevent abuse. The panel was asked to share its ideas on useful preventive measures. Israel detailed steps taken domestically to address the issue of child sexual abuse, which included an amendment to the Penal Law which criminalized not only the possession of an obscene publication, but also accessing such material through streaming. Saint Kitts and Nevis said that the country’s vision would be further realized with the successful implementation and enforcement of legal protection interventions, including the Electronic Crimes Act of 2009, which prohibited the publication, production and possession of child pornography using a computer system or through a computer data storage medium. Ecuador said that the establishment of protection mechanisms that had to be put in place to prevent child abuse could also generate challenges for States. Ecuador had developed a range of initiatives to address the problem of abuse against children. Sierra Leone said it was equally alarming that new forms of child sexual exploitation existed in the online grooming of girls to join the so-called terrorist group, ISIL in Syria and other countries. Children in Sierra Leone did not yet have widespread access to information and communications technology, but international frameworks were needed so that with increased Internet access, those vulnerabilities would be reduced. Spain encouraged Member States to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a communications procedure, and asked the panellists, given the proliferation of new platforms through which interaction occurred online, what those platforms’ influence was, and whether they meant that a shift or reorientation was needed in the strategies used so far.
Australia said that the universal action to combat the online grooming and exploitation of children should be multidimensional, emphasizing effective and seamless interaction between national and international stakeholders. Philippines condemned the abuse of the information and communication technology by unscrupulous groups and organizations to exploit women and children, especially girls. Austria noted that the international community needed to further strengthen cooperation in order to investigate and identify victims, and to prohibit all forms of the sale and sexual exploitation of children online. Brazil stressed that the limitations to children’s freedom of expression and information on the Internet should be applied in accordance with the principle of proportionality, prioritizing their best interest. Egypt underlined the need for States and relevant stakeholders to engage in a serious and meaningful dialogue on improving the protection of children online. It supported a bigger role for the International Telecommunication Union and its Working Group on Child Online Protection in those discussions. Canada, on behalf of the Groupe Francophone, strongly condemned all forms of violence against children, and underlined the need to establish full online safety for children and the mechanisms to ensure it.
Plan International, in a joint statement with Save the Children International highlighted the importance of information and communication technologies that contributed directly to the enjoyment of children’s rights and their protection from violence, and called on States to ensure that all children had equal access to such technology. International-Lawyers Org urged States to intensify their cooperation with international authorities to combat the exploitation of children via the Internet, including through sharing monitoring technology with all developing States and removing it from the exclusive control of any single State.
Libya underlined the importance of raising the awareness of parents and caregivers on the risks children faced on the Internet, and encouraged States to use blocks and filtering methods to protect children from such material. Greece said that it was preparing a legislative reform to establish common quality standards for the alternative care of children and the promotion of foster care and small facilities. Netherlands said that parents had a special role and should educate themselves on the risks that children may face online. Qatar said that the protection of children on the Internet was a collaborative activity between authorities and individuals, and presented its own domestic efforts in that regard.
India said that in the absence of a robust and globally-coordinated response, national legislative efforts ran a real risk of failure. India had put into place the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act of 2012, which included the establishment of Special Courts. Tunisia said that children’s vulnerability meant States had to be effective through education and awareness raising of families, also asking panellists what cooperation the international community could make when it came to mitigating the sexual exploitation of children? Georgia detailed national initiatives made, and welcomed the upcoming visit of the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography in April 2016. Chile said that the transnational nature of the threat meant States had to promote regional cooperation, adding that there was a difference between privacy and anonymity. Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie said that violence against children was a multifaceted universal phenomenon, and that the Organisation had created many training sessions for relevant participants aimed at mitigating the problem. Peru asked how to reconcile the needs of countries like Peru which faced basic and traditional challenges with new, omnipresent virtual threats which were more difficult to grasp.
Ireland asked the panellists to elaborate on how States could strengthen cooperation through multilateral, regional and bilateral agreements, and to elaborate on best practice in and beyond school systems to raise awareness to potential risks in the online environment. Senegal noted that the online exploitation of children was a worrying phenomenon, adding that the uncontrolled development of information and communication technologies complicated the work of States, especially developing ones. Venezuela stated that the easy access to information and communication technologies had complicated the safety of children, and that it was important to raise the responsibility of multinational companies in that respect. Saudi Arabia noted that the progress of every society depended on children, and it had thus adopted a system to protect children from all forms of exploitation, including sexual abuse. Colombia said it had developed mechanisms to prevent child pornography and sexual exploitation, and to fight various forms of risks associated with new technologies. Republic of Korea shared the view that information and communication technologies had brought about both opportunities and challenges for children. It had installed a monitoring system for the surveillance of online risks, and to punish perpetrators.
JOHN CARR, Founding Director of Internet Watch Foundation, noted that many States had referred to the need of strengthening international cooperation to combat sexual exploitation. He said that technical tools were important to enable police forces to address the extent of that crime.
MAUD DE BOER-BUQUICCHIO, Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, welcomed that some States had emphasized the need for prevention. She said that empowering children through education was important in that regard. She also pointed at the role of parents and the media in that regard. Non-governmental organizations played a very important role to empower communities at the local level. Information and communications technologies companies also played a role in prevention through the development of tools, hotlines, and awareness raising. Content providers played a role for the removal of abusive material. The primary responsibility however lay with the States. The Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols should also be universally ratified, and a comprehensive legal framework should be established to criminalize child abuse.
ERNIE ALLEN, Chairperson of the International Advisory Board of the United Kingdom initiative WePROTECT and Founder, former President and Chief Executive Officer of the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, explained that a model national response developed by WePROTECT could be used by States to refer to examples of best practices in keeping children safe in the online environment. As for the question on how to reconcile basic need with new risks, he said that was a moving target as new technologies were constantly developing. The answer was to look for innovation and solutions by the industry, rather than to restrict the use of the Internet. Mr. Allen underlined the importance of prevention because States would never be able to arrest and prosecute all perpetrators. The main challenge had to be addressed from the prevention level. WePROTECT’s national model response was adaptable for all countries, regardless of their level of information and communications technologies development.
BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, noted that there could be instances where the religious and cultural views of parents and children could diverge. Good practices from the Global North could not be simply transmitted to the Global South without taking into account the local context. The Global South had to do its own research and data collection. The Sustainable Development Goals could not be implemented without having addressed the problem of the exploitation and abuse of children, he concluded.
PREETAM MALOOR, Acting Head of the Corporate Strategy Division at the International Telecommunication Union, drew attention to the background paper of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the digital agenda for children. He said that every national strategy should contain the main components of the background paper.
CHOI KYONGLIM, President of the Human Rights Council, thanked the panellists and speakers who had contributed to the discussion.
For use of the information media; not an official record