'The rights of the child are as applicable online as offline'

Date: 7th March 2016
Category: Civil Rights and Freedoms, Reporting to and monitoring the UNCRC

The annual day of discussion on the rights of the child at the UN on 8th March 2016 focused on information and communications technology (ICTs) and child sexual exploitation, with States attempting to understand and deepen cooperation on the issue.

In the morning session Sweden, speaking on behalf of other Nordic countries, stressed that sexual abuse and exploitation of children was fundamentally rooted in a culture of gender discrimination. The countries claimed that education on different forms of sexuality, and the potential outcomes of children's online activities are key to protecting children from exploitation.

Qatar took virtually the opposite view, arguing that irresponsible use of ICTs by children were the reason that there was an increasing amount of child sexual exploitation. The Qatari representative insisted that the family held ultimate responsibility for defending children, but made no references to children having rights of their own.

New forms of child sexual exploitation through ICTs

Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, explained that new technology has given rise to new and complex challenges. Streaming occurs across different jurisdictions, making the identification of perpetrators increasingly difficult, while virtual currencies further complicate things by creating anonymity for perpetrators. The dark web and peer-to-peer connections have also facilitated the sharing of material involving child sexual abuse. A unique impact on children of these new methods of sharing images of abuse is the re-victimisation when material is repeatedly seen by others.

Investigating and policing abuse facilitated by ICTs

In the afternoon session Norwegian journalist Håkon Fostervold Høydal explained how, while investigating revenge porn sites, he found that download logs of child abuse material were accessible on file sharing websites, allowing reporters to identify 95,000 IP address which had downloaded images of child sexual abuse. His paper tracked down some of the people who downloaded this material and contacted them. Many admitted what they had done and said they saw it as an addiction. Høydal questioned why initiatives used to clamp down on copyright infringement, were not being replicated for use on those who download child abuse images.

Michael Moran, Assistant Director, Vulnerable Communities at INTERPOL highlighted the differences between child sexual abuse and pornography and the importance of correct terminology. Moran described the difficulties law enforcement face with identifying victims, as many images and videos of abuse are posted anonymously. He emphasised that for every abuse image, of which INTERPOL currently has 50,000 involving unidentified victims, a child has been abused in the real world.

Every year, the UN Human Rights Council dedicates a full day to discuss a specific child rights theme during its March session. At the end of the session, it negotiates and adopts a resolution about the specific theme or child rights in general. This more general resolution is called an Omnibus Resolution.