Prevalence of OCSEA in Pakistan

Pakistan is the 8th largest population of internet users in the world (PTA 2022). At the start of 2022, internet penetration in Pakistan stood at 36.5% of the total population, i.e. 82.90 million internet users with 71.70 million active social media users.There were increase of 22 million (35.9%) internet users in Pakistan between 2021 and 2022. Data from GSMA Intelligence shows that there were 186.9 million cellular mobile connections in Pakistan at the start of 2022.

Sahil, a non-governmental organisation that works against child sexual abuse, reports 145 cases (3.76%) in 2021 and 109 cases (2.56%) in 2022 of OCSEA. In 2021, the Digital Rights Foundation’s Cyber Harassment Helpline received 4441 new cases. Children were targeted in 184 cases (4%). The helpline found that females are generally more vulnerable to extortion and non-consensual use of their information, including but not limited to their pictures, videos, and phone numbers. However, fake profiles and hacked accounts are more likely to have a negative emotional impact on women and damage their reputation in society. This is one of the reasons why few cases are reported to law enforcement in Pakistan.

Because the internet knows no borders, cyber crimes are committed in numerous jurisdictions. The users, facilitators and victims can all be in different countries. Most of the popular social media companies are registered in the United States and have users from all over the world, including Pakistan. The National Centre for Missing & Exploited Children’s (NCMEC) CyberTipline is the United States’ central reporting system for online child exploitation, including child sexual abuse material, child trafficking and online enticement. Because these companies have users around the world and these incidents are reported to NCMEC, the CyberTipline serves as a global clearinghouse.

Companies in the United States must comply with 18 USC 2258A, which requires US companies to report to the NCMEC CyberTipline when they become aware of suspected child sexual abuse material on their platforms and servers. The CyberTipline provides the public and online electronic service providers with an easy way to quickly report suspected cases of OCSEA.

The CyberTipline receives cases about various forms of OCSEA on the internet. The number of reports in 2022 has increased in almost every category compared to 2020 and 2019. Reports of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) make up the largest reporting category. Over 99% of reports received in 2021 and 2022 by the CyberTipline involved incidents of suspected CSAM.

Source: CyberTipline

The CyberTipline received more than 29.3 million reports in 2021 and 31 million reports in 202233. Of the total reports, 99% of these reports came from Electronic Service Providers (ESP) reporting cases of apparent child sexual abuse material that they learned about on their systems.

Of the cases reported in 2021, most came from India, followed by Philippines and Pakistan, while in 2022 it was India, the Philippines, followed by Bangladesh and then Pakistan. These figures are not representative of the extent of child sexual abuse in any particular country. However, they do indicate that a large amount of content related to child sexual material is consumed, uploaded and distributed from Pakistan. According to the FIA, 70% of child sexual abuse material uploaded from Pakistan is non-Asian content produced abroad and re-uploaded and distributed by Pakistani users.

Although the scale of the problem can be hinted by the statistics from ESPs, there is probably no way of estimating the actual number of victims, as not all content is detected by ESPs. Nonetheless, the available data clearly suggests that there are many more unidentified victims of OCSEA than those who have been identified or have reported complaints to law enforcement. In contrast, only 570 local cases reported to the FIA in three years according to FIA, 113 cases in year 2021, 187 cases in year 2022 and 250 cases in year 2023.

Once the complaint has been received by the FIA, it is examined and, after an initial investigation, a charge is filed. In 2021, the FIA registered 53 FIRs, in 2022 the FIA registered 65 and in 2023 51 FIRs were registered. According to the FIA, 6 convictions were made under registered FIRs in 2023.

Data released by the Internet Watch Foundation39 shows that 97% of all child sexual abuse material identified globally in 2021 involved the sexual abuse of girls, compared to only 65% of images seen by analysts ten years ago. Although both boys and girls can be victims of online violence and abuse, girls are significantly more likely to be victims of repeated and severe forms of technology-facilitated violence against children that affect their safety, physical and mental health, livelihoods, family ties, dignity, and reputation. The Internet Watch Foundation has also revealed that the number of “self-generated’ sexual imagery of 7 to 10-year-olds increased by 360% between 2020 and 2022.

A study conducted by the Digital Rights Foundation in Pakistan found that girls’ online experiences differ significantly from those of boys. Several female respondents reported being followed and approached by older men. Girls reported being more likely to be harassed by men online, for example through repeated inbox messages or by being sent lewd photos.

The statistics on OCSEA available from the FIA are limited and could be improved. This is very important because awareness of the extent of OCSEA remains low among key stakeholders in Pakistan. This leads to a low sense of urgency and is likely to result in the issue of OCSEA receiving limited political attention and funding. In order to develop effective and appropriate responses, it is important that the federal and provincial governments have a clear understanding of the extent, characteristics and trends of OCSEA in all provinces and regions. This requires that all relevant government agencies regularly collect and publish statistics on prevalence disaggregated by gender and age, and share this information with key stakeholders as evidence to improve policies and strategies to tackle OCSEA.


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