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Child sexual abuse is the internet’s darkest secret

A 59-year-old European man is currently awaiting extradition to France after abusing two girls in their early teens in Madagascar. One of the survivors testified that the man, who took nude photographs of both girls and put them online, sexually assaulted her.

This is far from an isolated case. Child sexual abuse has emerged as internet’s darkest secret. It is an $8bn industry in itself – and that sum does not include the exponential profits made by data service providers across the globe.

Blocking child porn websites is just a quick-fix solution. The real challenge is to block individuals from disseminating such content and data servers from hosting it.

Internet users these days can access child abuse material with near impunity, taking advantage of decentralised networks accessed through special algorithms. As many of those who seek to view such content use crypto-currencies, it is extremely difficult to track the seller and buyer.

Every picture is a crime scene in itself which not only violates the rights of children at the time but also remains on the internet forever, a life-long psychological burden.

Therefore, as world leaders gather at the World Economic Forum in Davos, I am demanding a legally-binding UN convention against online child sexual abuse and pornography.

Several Nobel laureates, Pope Francis, Angela Merkel, and international bodies such as the OECD have extended support for the endeavour.

In 2017 the Internet Watch Foundation found 78,589 individual web addresses worldwide showing images of child abuse. The five countries that host 87 per cent of this material are the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, France and Russia. However this tells us nothing about where this material was being produced or viewed.

The content may be produced in one part of the world, hosted in another, and viewed in an altogether different location. Some studies claim that videos of infants as young as eighteen months being raped or tortured sell for anywhere between $7,000 and $8000.

At the same time, cybersex trafficking of children is one of the most brutal forms of modern day slavery. Paedophiles lure children and their parents online to watch acts of sexual abuse from wherever they may be abroad.

While the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and a few other international treaties do mention the crime, they are not legally binding.

The UN Convention that I envisage will focus on the prevention of all forms of online sexual abuse. It will be backed by a new Global Task Force against online child pornography, child sexual abuse and child trafficking to provide victims with holistic support.

It will include a dedicated international toll-free helpline for reporting cases under real-time supervision of INTERPOL or any other relevant agency. It will create a treaty body to provide assistance to stakeholders where the expertise to deal with such cyber-crimes is inadequate. And it will facilitate extradition procedures.

Finally, the Convention will ensure a convergence of efforts at national, bilateral and international levels. This will lead to a uniform legal regime dealing with online sexual abuse of children, as well as uniformity in standards and efficiency of global law enforcement response.

Together we must make the internet safer for our children.

Mr Satyarthi is attending the World Economic Forum

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