Charities welcome EU plan on child sex abuse
■ Concerns over increase in online abuse imagery during Covid crisis
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