Sexual abuse and exploitation of children through the Internet and other information and communication technologies

The UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre is conducting a study on sexual abuse and exploitation of children through Internet, mobile phones and other information and communication technologies (ICTs).

Over the last ten years, the spread and usage of Internet and other related ICTs have increased significantly in all parts of the world. This development has largely been seen as positive since it facilitates access to information and communication between people. It can also be beneficial for children for both educational and social purposes. However, it can also pose new risks for children's safety, personal development and well-being. In particular, there is evidence to suggest that it has increased the risks for sexual abuse and exploitation in both online and offline settings.

While this topic has been the focus of much research in some parts of the world, UNICEF Innocenti has identified a knowledge gap in this area from a global perspective. Accordingly, the approach to this study is global and it has three specific themes: legal frameworks, law enforcement policy and practice, and prevention/behaviour change.

  • The first theme documents and analyses international, regional and national legal frameworks in order to gather a robust evidence base and contribute to enhanced child protection legislation in line with international standards. It examines the criminalization of sexual abuse and exploitation of children through ICTs, provisions for the prevention, protection and rehabilitation of affected children as well as regularization of the private sector, such as Internet Service Providers and mobile phone companies. Based on this review, model legislation will be proposed.
  • The second theme examines law enforcement efforts to combat sexual abuse and exploitation of children through ICTs, including child friendly investigation techniques, cross-national cooperation and capacity development in law enforcement agencies.
  • Finally, the third theme documents preventive measures to combat child sexual abuse and exploitation through ICTs and provides an analysis of children's and adolescents' views and recommendations regarding their use of ICTs, including risk-taking behaviour and capacity for self-protection.
The methodology includes a literature review, mapping of policy and practice using country case studies to highlight good practices and lessons learned, and an analysis of materials and findings to identify gaps and recommendations. In addition, a survey on children's internet use has been developed and posted on the UNICEF website Voices of Youth to gather information on girls' and boys' experiences, and to reflect their views in the report.

The study is informed by the Convention of the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Pornography and Prostitution, the UNICEF Child Protection Strategy and the Protective Environment Framework as well as recommendations from the UN Study on Violence against Children and the three World Congresses on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse against Children. The research is also based on lessons learned from previous research supported by UNICEF Innocenti on the sexual abuse and exploitation of children.

The research is undertaken in collaboration with a variety of partners, including academics, practitioners, policy makers, law enforcement personnel and legal experts. The main partners include the CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Safety) Centre within the UK Police, the Safer Internet Programme within the European Commission, the CPP (Child Protection Partnership) of the International Institute of Child Rights and Development and UNICEF Headquarters. An Expert Advisory Group, comprising representatives of many of these organizations and other experts, has been established to provide feedback and guidance throughout the research process.

The outcomes will consist of a set of papers addressing the three themes mentioned above. The papers will be published online. Based on their findings and recommendations, and the discussions at an expert meeting held in June 2010, a UNICEF publication will be produced and launched in early 2011. In addition to informing programmes and policies of key stakeholders, the study is expected to be used by UNICEF Headquarters in the development of policy and programme guidance on this topic.

The project is generously supported by the Japanese National Committee.

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