Concept of Child Online Protection

The use of the internet and technology is today’s reality. New technologies are fundamentally changing the lives of children in the twenty-first century. Children are among the most frequent users of new digital and online services. They can socialise, explore, learn and engage in creative activities on the internet. But the more time children spend online, the greater the risks and dangers they face.

Nowadays, many children have integrated their lives with a mobile phone, video games and the internet. Although the technology offers tremendous benefits, children can also face a number of risks. Children may be exposed to inappropriate content for their age or inappropriate contacts when children are exposed to violence, including sexual abuse and exploitation – a risk that is growing exponentially with the rapidly increasing use of technology. The internet’s new audio and video facilities expose children to all manner of evil and also provide criminals with a variety of ways to target, exploit and abuse children.

Categories Of Risks

According to the OECD typology of risks , there are four emerging risk categories to which parents, educators and children should be alert.

Content risks: These include hateful, harmful or illegal content and disinformation.

Conduct risks: These refer to children’s own behaviour and conduct that can make them vulnerable, e.g. in the case of sexting or cyberbullying.

Contact risks: These include online predators, sex trafficking and cyber-grooming, which are a growing problem in all countries.

Consumer risks: such as inappropriate marketing messages and online fraud.

Overarching Risks

The typology also recognises risks that cut across all risk categories and are seen as highly problematic, as they can significantly affect children’s lives in a variety of ways.

Privacy risks: Many children do not yet understand what privacy information they are receiving and the value of their personal data.

Advanced Technologies Risks: The use of AI-based technologies, the Internet of Things (IoT) and extended virtual reality (XR) pose further risks. The immersive virtual worlds within the metaverse bring new and increased threats, many of which are not yet well understood.

Health and wellbeing risks: The potential negative impact of the digital environment on children’s health and well-being has caused great public concern.

What is Child Online Protection (COP)?

Child online protection (COP) refers to the measures and steps needed to protect children from harm and exploitation. It adopts a holistic approach to respond to all potential risks and harms children and young people may encounter online. Impacts range from threads to protection of personal data and privacy, to harassment and cyber bullying, harmful online content, grooming for sexual purposes, and sexual abuse and exploitation. Different risks may need different approaches within a holistic framework; and a balance between the different rights of the child, including protection and participation. It is everyone’s responsibility to protect children from the harms that online risks may cause.

Violence against children can manifest itself in many ways, including physical, emotional, neglect and sexual abuse. This may involve physical contact or non-contact activities such as child sexual abuse, child prostitution, child trafficking, bullying, etc.

Difference Between Child Sexual Abuse and Child Sexual Exploitation

Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) means forcing or enticing a child to engage in sexual activity, whether the child is aware of it or not. This may include activities such as involving children in viewing or producing sexual images, watching sexual activity, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate behaviour, or grooming a child in preparation for abuse.

Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) is a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs when an individual or group uses a power imbalance to coerce, manipulate, or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity  in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or for the financial gain or status gain of the perpetrator or facilitator. The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the activity appears to be consensual.

Child sexual abuse and exploitation takes on an online dimension when any form of online technology such as the internet is used to produce and share child sexual abuse material. For example, when sexual acts are photographed or video/audio recorded, which are then uploaded and shared online, either for personal use or to share with others.

Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (OCSEA)

Child sexual abuse and exploitation takes on an online dimension when any form of online technology such as the internet is used to produce and share child sexual abuse material. For example, when sexual acts are photographed or video/audio recorded, which are then uploaded and shared online, either for personal use or to share with others.

As the internet and sophisticated digital tools have increased, so has the emergence of child sexual exploitation material become accessible online. Images and videos of children can be seen on many internet platforms, such as social media, file sharing services, image sharing websites, webcam video games and even mobile apps. In addition, people who commit these crimes may join internet discussion forums and networks to express their desires and experiences of exploitation of minors and to buy, share or exchange photos.

OCSEA refers to a variety of sexually exploitative and harmful behaviours that take place or are facilitated online and through the use of information technologies. Online child sexual exploitation and abuse (OCSEA) encompasses a wide range of forms and behaviours.  These may include:

Child sexual abuse material refers to material depicting sexual abuse acts of any kind, a child engaged in real or simulated explicit sexual activity, or any depiction of a child’s private parts for predominantly sexual purposes or use of children in pornographic performances and materials.

Cyberbullying occurs when someone, usually a stranger, deliberately and repeatedly harasses another person online by sending them hurtful messages or images or posting negative things about them on websites. This is common on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Sexting is sending and receiving sexual messages via technology such as a phone, app, email or webcam. Sexting can include words, photos or videos, such as: a sexually explicit message or post, nude or semi-nude photos/videos, photos/videos of sexual acts, live webcam chats with someone involving sexual acts, photos/videos taken with a webcam, etc.

Sextortion/ sexual extortion is the blackmailing of an adult or child using (self-made) images of that person to extort sexual favours, money or other benefits from them, under the threat of sharing the material without the consent of the person depicted (e.g. posting images on social media or sending them to family members).

Livestreaming of child sexual abuse and exploitation means that children committing or viewing sexual acts or indecent images of children with other perpetrators are broadcast live over the internet (via webcam) to viewers. This happens in online chat rooms, on social media platforms and in communication apps with video chat functions. Livestreaming child sexual abuse viewers can be passive (paid) or active, communicating with the child, the sex offender and/or the facilitator of the sexual abuse and demanding certain physical acts. Another type of livestreaming could involve forcing a child to produce and broadcast sexual content in real time.

Grooming a child for sexual purposes is shorthand for soliciting children for sexual purposes and refers to the process of establishing a relationship with a child in person or through the internet or other digital technologies with the intention of engaging in sexual acts or producing child sexual abuse material.

Both girls and boys can fall into more than one category, and this overlap of risk factors puts them at greater risk of sexual abuse and exploitation.

New Technologies and Trends

There are new technologies and new trends that further endanger the lives of children, such as virtual games, deepfake technology and private browsers. Deepfake, for example, is a new trend in OCSEA where perpetrators manipulate photos and videos of children into sexual images in order to extort more sexual images from them. This manipulation can include anything from a photo of a child naked in a swimming costume to showing a child’s face on a person’s body performing a sex act. The perpetrator then shows the edited images to the victim and threatens to share them with parents, friends, school or social media if the child does not send him more, often increasingly graphic, photos or videos . Sometimes the perpetrators force the child to extend the abuse to friends or younger siblings, or they invite other perpetrators to join in the sextortion and demand specific or images.

Furthermore, apps and websites that use artificial intelligence to undress children in photos are on the rise. These are popularly referred to as “Nude Generator Technologies” or “Nudify Apps” or “Declothing Apps”. “Nude Generator Technologies” use software and algorithms to manipulate images. They use techniques such as deep learning and AI to generate realistic-looking nude photos and explicit content, or either soliciting images from victims via their social media and then edit them to create nude photos with the intention of harassing or blackmailing them, etc. Additionally, users of artistic AI platforms have reportedly created explicit/shocking content with additional features such as features like text-to-image models. Once these images are shared, victims face problems as the manipulated content keeps resurfacing and it is not easy to detect deepfakes with the naked eye. According to the report, these apps are promoted on social media platforms, gaining more and more users, and increasing the vulnerability of minors.

In 2022, a BBC News investigation discovered that the Metaverse exposes children to “wholly inappropriate” and “incredibly harmful” sexual content. Two journalists investigating VRChat, one of the most popular apps on the Metaverse Oculus Quest shop, have extensively documented sexual harassment of children and their exposure to inappropriate content on virtual platforms. Jess Sherwood, a BBC researcher, pretended to be a 13-year-old girl while exploring virtual spaces in VRChat. She discovered and visited a virtual strip club as part of her investigation, where she witnessed adult men chasing a child and ordering her to undress. Condoms and sex toys were on display in many of the rooms Sherwood entered. She even witnessed a group of adult men and teenagers engaging in group sex on one occasion. She also observed several cases of grooming during her investigation. Journalist Yinka Bokinni made similar observations while investigating for Channel 4 Dispatches as a 22-year-old woman and a 13-year-old child. She was confronted with racist, sexist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic comments from other users within seconds of entering one of VRChat’s virtual spaces.

 Child Pornography” does not accurately depict OCSEA

The term “child pornography” is now commonly referred to as “child sexual abuse material” (CSAM). The term “pornography” suggests that the material is created and distributed for the purpose of sexual gratification, which is not an accurate or adequate characterisation of the harm done to children who are subjected to sexual abuse and exploitation. The use of the term “child sexual abuse material’ emphasises the seriousness of the crime and the harm caused to child victims and helps to promote public understanding of the issue. The Committee on the Rights of the Child recommends that States’ parties, in line with recent developments, avoid the term ‘child pornography’ to the extent possible and use other terms such as the ‘use of children in pornographic performances and materials’, ‘child sexual abuse material’ and ‘child sexual exploitation material’.

Kasur child sexual abuse scandal

The “Kasur child sexual abuse scandal” refers to a series of cases of sexual exploitation and abuse of children that took place between 2006 and 2014 in Kasur district in the province of Punjab, culminating in a major political scandal in 20155 . Both media and government officials have described it as the biggest child abuse scandal in Pakistan’s history. After the discovery of hundreds of video clips showing children engaged in sexual acts, various Pakistani media estimated that 280 to 300 children, most of them male, had been sexually exploited and abused. The scandal allegedly involved an organised crime ring that sold child sexual abuse material to porn sites while blackmailing and extorting the victims’ relatives.

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