The Internet exposes children to a wealth of opportunities, but also risks that may have a detrimental impact on their human rights. Some of these risks include cyberbullying, online grooming, cybercrime and online sexual violence.


Cyberviolence against childrenFor the last two decades, child sexual abuse material produced offline by abusers has been shared online and while these offences persist in large number, more recently law enforcement and civil society first responders have reported an increasing trend for sharing of images and videos and the emergence of “live streamed” sexual abuse.

Grooming for sexual purposes is another risk children may encounter on the Internet. It can take place in Internet chat rooms, social networking sites or game sites. Although the act of grooming is not a new tactic, the fact that it can now be done online offers new and dangerous possibilities for offenders to solicit children in a faster and more anonymous way.

What can we do?

The Council of Europe has been promoting the protection of children and their empowerment in a digital environment for many years, including through the current “Council of Europe Strategy for the Rights of the Child” which states that children:

... have the right to learn, play and communicate online – and to be protected from bullying, hate speech, radicalisation, sexual abuse, and other risks of the "dark net". Guaranteeing the rights of the child in the digital environment is a key challenge all member States of the Council of Europe face, and the Strategy will help them provide children with practical knowledge of how to be online and stay safe.”

Given the complexity of this phenomenon countries need to have a multidisciplinary approach by joining forces of the different stakeholders in order to have a successful prevention, awareness raising and criminal justice measures.

The first step of this process is the harmonisation of the national legislation with the international standards such as the Council of Europe Convention for the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (Lanzarote Convention) and the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime.

However, the legislation is not enough, and the criminal justice authorities require additional capacities, especially for magistrates who are also facing challenges posted by the new technologies, international cooperation and electronic evidence.
 

In this regard, the Council of Europe implements a number of capacity building projects aiming to address this challenge:

 "VAC Clearinghouse” – an online platform set up by the Council of Europe meant to facilitate access to various resources on violence against children with a view to support all stakeholders and partners involved in developing effective responses.

The Council of Europe Convention on the protection of children against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, also known as “the Lanzarote Convention”, is a human rights treaty dedicated specifically to prevent and respond to all forms of sexual violence against children. By putting children’s rights at its heart, it adopts a victim-centred approach with far reaching provisions that improve systems and services therefore helping States to fight against all forms of violence against children.

The Budapest Convention on Cybercrime of the Council of Europe is aimed at modernising criminal law provisions to prevent computer systems from being used to facilitate sexual abuse and exploitation of children. The Convention seeks to strengthen protective measures for children against sexual exploitation by criminalizing various aspects of the electronic production, possession and distribution of child pornography (Article 9).

Furthermore, the Convention introduces procedural law measures and sets up a fast and effective regime of international cooperation to enable investigation of offences related to cyberviolence, allowing for preservation and collection of electronic evidence, as well as international cooperation.

Both treaties are open to accession by any country in the world, inspiring legislation and policies in all regions, helping countries and organisations to deliver on their commitment towards the UN SDGs.

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