Why we must act to protect children online
*This article is an adapted from my remarks at last week’s online dialogue on the launch of the 2020 Child Online Protection Guidelines.
Children who have suffered abuse, who were robbed of their childhood and instead carry guilt and shame … children who are at risk of future atrocities … it is for all these children that we are here today.
Nelson Mandela said: “History will judge us by the difference we make in the everyday lives of children.”
Today’s launch of ITU’s new guidelines for child online protection marks an important milestone in our international efforts to end violence against children. I am happy to see how several UN agencies, and many global NGOs including my Foundation, Childhood, came together to develop these important new resources that will help to drive action for safeguarding children online.
Ladies and gentlemen. It is well over 20 years since I first decided to use my voice and position to break the silence and speak about the unspeakable. The global pandemic of child sexual abuse and exploitation is a topic that I have felt strongly about ever since the first big case in Sweden in 1992.
As you can understand, it wasn’t easy as a Queen to speak about sexually abused children. Whenever I spoke, I saw people looking down or turning their heads. But I persisted, hoping I could make a difference.
Nothing, however, could prepare me for the tsunami of child sexual abuse material that we see today, 21 years later, that is flooding the Internet. Police say, the children are becoming younger, the abuse more severe.
Ladies and gentlemen, these children are not just statistics, not just images being passed around. These are real children being abused by real adults, not in a virtual but in a real world.
Today all of us are benefiting from the wonders of technology. For me, nothing is more gratifying than FaceTiming with my grandchildren. But while I enjoy this privilege, hundreds of millions of children are being placed at risk of violence and harm online.
Early on I learned that if there is a way to use technology for criminal or immoral purposes, there is also a way to use technology to protect our children. One such tool was the NetClean solution developed with the support of the World Childhood Foundation in 2003. It helps to detect child sexual abuse material on computers and now also on phones.
But at the end of the day, technology alone cannot win this war. All stakeholders – policy makers, companies and civil society – must come together.
The companies that provide online platforms need to prioritize child online safety. And children need to know that we will protect them, and not the abusers.
Every minute we wait, thousands of children will suffer. Remember what Nelson Mandela said: “History will judge us by the difference we make in everyday lives of children.”
We can no longer tolerate the scale of online child abuse and exploitation. We must make it our global priority. And we must act now!