Char­i­ties wel­come EU plan on child sex abuse

■ Con­cerns over in­crease in on­line abuse im­agery dur­ing Covid cri­sis

Irish Examiner - - News - Cor­mac O’Ke­effe Se­cu­rity Cor­re­spon­dent

Ir­ish chil­dren’s char­i­ties have wel­come EU plans to com­bat child sex abuse amid con­cerns here and across Europe of a rise over the Covid-19 emer­gency of child abuse and on­line abuse im­agery.

The new EU strat­egy to com­bat child sex abuse an­nounced the first steps to­wards the pos­si­ble cre­ation of an EU ex­pert cen­tre to com­bat child abuse, sim­i­lar to an ex­ist­ing US body.

The strat­egy also calls for “im­me­di­ate” mea­sures to ad­dress the threat to iden­tify chil­dren abused or ex­ploited be­ing posed by in­ter­net and tele­com gi­ants in­creas­ing end-to-end en­cryp­tion of com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

It said that plans by Face­book to in­tro­duce end-to-end en­cryp­tion for its mes­sag­ing ser­vice could re­duce the ex­ist­ing num­ber of re­ports of child abuse im­agery in the EU by half or as much as two thirds.

The plan calls for manda­tory obli­ga­tions on com­pa­nies to de­tect and re­port child sex­ual abuse on­line.

The plan also calls for mea­sures to im­prove pre­ven­tio­nand greater sup­port for child vic­tims.

The strat­egy said there are in­di­ca­tions that the Covid-19 emer­gency has ex­ac­er­bated the prob­lem for chil­dren, par­tic­u­larly those who live with their abusers.

In ad­di­tion, chil­dren are spend­ing more time on­line, pos­si­bly un­su­per­vised, in­creas­ing the risk of con­tact with on­line preda­tors.

Last month, Garda Com­mis­sioner Drew Har­ris said there had been a 26% rise be­tween March and May in no­ti­fi­ca­tions of child abuse im­agery to gar­daí from the US Na­tional Cen­tre for Miss­ing and Ex­ploited Chil­dren.

Cari, which pro­vides ther­apy to chil­dren who have been sex­u­ally abused, wel­comed the EU strat­egy.

“The Na­tional Cen­ter for Miss­ing and Ex­ploited Chil­dren in the US have seen an in­crease in their re­fer­rals since March of 2020,” said Cari’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Eve Far­relly.

“Europol has re­ported that the num­ber of files made avail­able by of­fend­ers to one an­other across a num­ber of dark web fo­rums in­creased sig­nif­i­cantly dur­ing the months of lock­down.”

On the EU strat­egy, she said: “It is a strat­egy that ad­dresses the need for pre­ven­tion by look­ing at pro­vid­ing pro­grams for those who fear they will of­fend, this is an ex­tremely im­por­tant child pro­tec­tion mea­sure. It also ad­dresses a need for a le­gal frame­work that will iden­tify leg­isla­tive gaps.

“This is im­por­tant as the law must be able to deal with the mu­tat­ing mech­a­nisms that are used to com­mit this crime.”

ISPCC chief ex­ec­u­tive John Church wel­comed the EU plan say­ing chil­dren and young peo­ple who have con­tacted Child­line in re­cent months said they have ex­pe­ri­enced is­sues in­clud­ing abuse and vi­o­lence.

He also called on the new Gov­ern­ment to fully rat­ify the Coun­cil of Europe Con­ven­tion on the Pro­tec­tion of Chil­dren Against Sex­ual Ex­ploita­tion and Sex­ual Abuse (the Lan­zarote Con­ven­tion) and The Con­ven­tion on Cy­ber­crime of the Coun­cil of Europe (the Bu­dapest Con­ven­tion).

Mr Church also called for the pub­li­ca­tion of a Na­tional Strat­egy for Child Sex­ual Abuse, Child Sex­ual Ex­ploita­tion, and On­line Risks to Child Safety, as rec­om­mended by the Garda In­spec­torate in its re­port Re­spond­ing to Child Sex­ual Abuse, which was pub­lished in 2012.

■ Cari Na­tional Helpline 1890 924567 and cari.ie; IPSCC Child­line 1800 66 66 66 or text 50101 or chat on­line at Child­line.ie

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