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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL CONCLUDES ANNUAL MEETING ON INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGIES AND CHILD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION

7 March 2016

The Human Rights Council this afternoon concluded its annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child with a panel discussion that focused on the role of information and communications technologies, multi-stakeholders approach and good practices.

Marta Santos Pais, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children, who moderated the discussion, noted that the protection of children from online exploitation did not justify the suppression of their right to learn through the Internet.  The issue of child online exploitation was a multidimensional problem that required a multifaceted response.  It was important to have in place a strong criminal justice system and reporting mechanisms for children at risk.  There was a need for a safe and inclusive digital environment for all children, and national and international authorities, the private sector, media, schools, parents and children all had to be involved in the process.

Andres Franco, Deputy Director of the Private Sector Engagement at the United Nations Children’s Fund, noted that information and communications technologies were becoming an integral part of children’s everyday lives.  They revolutionised children’s access to information, education and social networks, but they also exposed them to new risks and harm.  It was tremendously disturbing that the children featured in online images were younger and younger, and that those images were exchanged via peer-to-peer networks anonymously and without any trace of financial transaction.  In order to tackle online exploitation, the United Nations Children’s Fund had established a ground-breaking global capacity-building programme with partners in 17 countries. 

Hakon Fostervold Hoydal, Senior Feature Writer at Norwegian daily Verdens Gang, described a reporting project he had undertaken with a data security analyst aimed at confronting men who were downloading child abuse material.  Today, perpetrators and abusers thought they were invisible online.  But the project had shown that they could be identified.  If the film and music industry could successfully lobby for the right to track people who were illegally downloading movies and music, Mr. Hoydal asked why that right could not also be given in order to secure children’s human rights.

Michael Moran, Assistant Director, Vulnerable Communities, International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), said that only a small percentage of the number of victims out there had been identified, noting that INTERPOL and its Member States had a backlog of material that ran into the tens of millions of files.  The race to connect the next billion Internet users in the Global South would only exacerbate the current situation.  Thus only by working together in education and prevention, robust law enforcement and victim identification could the international community hope to manage the issue into the future.

Brittany Smith, European Union Policy Lead for Child Safety at Google Inc., explained that Google Search had been refined to further prevent links to child sexual abuse material from appearing in its results, and the Google algorithm did its best to make sense of the content of the Internet and return the most relevant results for people.  Since 2008, Google had been using its “hashing” technology to reliably and proactively detect child sexual abuse imagery, allowing it to quickly identify copies of those images and prevent them from reappearing on its products. 

Gaby Reyes, Founder and Director of Asociación Crecer en Red from Peru, said that information and communications technologies had changed the perceptions of privacy, leisure and expression.  Sexual violence taking place through technology was a big concern in households and schools.  Creating an atmosphere of fear was, however, not a healthy approach and did not contribute to the discussion, as it conveyed a picture of information and communications technologies that failed to portray their huge potential for empowering children.  It was essential to strike a balance between maximizing opportunities for empowerment provided by technology and minimizing the risks that derived from them. 

In the ensuing discussion, delegations stressed that offline responses had to be appropriate to online offences.  National law enforcement and child protection systems needed to be well-equipped to work on offline and online forms of violence against children, consistent with maintaining an open Internet.  Some States noted that the greatest challenge facing the contemporary international community was the exploitation of the Internet by ideological fundamentalists and terrorists, who recruited children to commit criminal acts.  Whereas the digital world offered children learning, participation and communication opportunities, it was the responsibility of States to ensure that their rights were upheld efficiently in that environment.  An adequate legislative framework and the training of law enforcement officials were crucial to combat online crimes against children, as well as the role of Internet providers, who should pay special attention to the safety of the youngest Internet users.

Speaking were: European Union, Bahrain, Council of Europe, Uruguay, Israel, Congo, Maldives, Mexico, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Italy, France, Slovenia, Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, Montenegro, Belarus, Albania, Portugal, Iran, United Kingdom, Kyrgyzstan, Sudan, Mali, Thailand, Pakistan, Monaco, and United Arab Emirates.  The Organization of Islamic Cooperation also spoke. 

Also taking the floor were the following civil society organizations: International Catholic Child Bureau, Africa Culture Internationale,  Arab Commission for Human Rights, European Centre for Law and Justice, and European Union of Public Relations.

The Council will reconvene at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, 8 March, to continue its clustered interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on foreign debt and the Special Rapporteur on the right to food that started at noon today.  It will then hold a clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict. 

Documentation

The Council has before it the Report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on information and communications technology and child sexual exploitation (A/HRC/31/34).

Statements by the Moderator and the Panellists

MARTA SANTOS PAIS, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children, moderating the discussion, noted that today’s discussion provided a great opportunity to promote good practices and lessons learned, and to anticipate priorities for future collaboration.  Although the Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted many years ago, its principles were as relevant today as they were in 1989.  Digital literacy was a fundamental part of human rights, which allowed children to grow with learning and confidence.  The international community was dealing with a very complex agenda, which recognized how new technologies helped children learn, communicate and defend their rights.  However, to many children new technologies also posed challenges.  They were often used to commit crimes against children.  Ms. Santos Pais stressed three dimensions of the issue.  First, in order to protect children, it was not justifiable to supress their right to learn.  Second, the issue of child online exploitation was a multidimensional problem and a multifaceted response to protect children in the online environment was needed.  Third, it was important to have in place a strong criminal justice system and reporting mechanisms for children at risk.  There was a need for a safe and inclusive digital environment for all children.  National and international authorities, the private sector, media, schools, parents and children all had to be involved in the process.  

ANDRES FRANCO, Deputy Director of the Private Sector Engagement at the United Nations Children’s Fund, noted that information and communications technologies were becoming an integral part of children’s everyday lives.  Globally, one in three Internet users was a child.  Children were spending more time online, and they started using the Internet and mobile phones at a younger age.  That development was transforming children’s lives and it was revolutionising children’s access to information, education and social networks.  New technologies exposed children to new risks and harm.  It was tremendously disturbing that children featured in online images were younger and younger, and that those images were exchanged via peer-to-peer networks anonymously and without any trace of financial transaction.  The United Nations Children’s Fund had established a ground-breaking global programme to build capacity to tackle online child sexual exploitation, and it had partners in 17 countries.  It accelerated efforts by governments, civil society, industry and United Nations agencies so that children were protected from online exploitation, perpetrators were apprehended and prosecuted, and children could enjoy the Internet free from danger.  The programme was prompting Governments to commit to protect children from online sexual exploitation in several countries, such as Kenya, Namibia, Uganda, Vietnam, Guatemala, Philippines and Albania.  The United Nations Children’s Fund also worked with the information and communication technology sector to ensure that the services and platforms they provided reduced the risks that children were exposed to online and were guided by the Children’s Rights and Business Principles, and the Industry Guidelines on Child Online Protection developed by the United Nations Children’s Fund, the International Telecommunications Union and partners.  However, research and efforts to monitor and evaluate policies and programmes were still urgently needed.  There was also insufficient capacity and coordination among key stakeholders at the national and global level to address online child sexual exploitation.  There were still low levels of awareness among children, parents, caregivers and teachers about the risks that children faced when using information and communications technologies, particularly in low-income settings.

MARTA SANTOS PAIS, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children, agreeing with the last presenter, concurred that prevention could not be ignored.  She then introduced Hakon Hoydal, a reporter with the Norwegian daily newspaper VG.

HAKON FOSTERVOLD HOYDAL, Senior Feature Writer at VG (Verdens Gang AS), described a reporting project he had undertaken with a data security analyst where the end result was to confront men who were downloading child abuse material.  After a few weeks, the reporting team had in total 95,000 IP addresses worldwide which had downloaded child abuse material.  The reporters then started working to identify the men behind those addresses, he said, underlining that they were all men.  They found the names of 78 Norwegians.  Ten of those were confronted using hidden cameras and microphones.  All were truly shocked that they had been found.  Their talk with the reporters was the first time any of them had had to explain their actions, and until they were confronted, no-one had stopped them and asked those “rather ordinary guys” what they were doing.  Today, perpetrators and abusers thought they were invisible online.  But the reporters’ project had shown that they could be identified.  Mr. Hoydal said that there needed to be a presence of what he called “normal people” on the sites that he had mentioned, so as to refuse abusers the right to create a room where abusive behaviour became the norm.  If the film and music industry could successfully lobby for the right to track people who were illegally downloading movies and music, he asked why that right could not also be given in order to secure children’s human rights.  “We need to let them know they can be seen,” he said, adding that the wake-up call could be a warning letter in their mailbox letting them know that their IP address had done something it shouldn’t.

MARTA SANTOS PAIS, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children, noted the reporter’s comment that the media was not simply helping victims but also giving a wake-up call where offenders were approached and their anonymity was broken.

MICHAEL MORAN, Assistant Director, Vulnerable Communities, International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), said that there could be no child pornography without child sexual abuse, and that therefore he and his colleagues preferred the term “child sexual abuse material” to describe what they worked with every day in increasing numbers.  The “explosion” in such material engendered by the information and communications revolution had been tempered somewhat over the last 15 years by law enforcement, the industry and non-governmental organizations working together.  The working together part had functioned well on that matter, and should be the model in the future.  Policy makers had responded well to the phenomenon, with laws now existing in a good number of countries.  He spoke about his department’s work in identifying victims, noting that in most countries, it was primarily a law enforcement task.  Child sexual abuse material could be sub-divided into the categories “identified,” “unidentified,” and “not distributed.”  An INTERPOL database had developed into a powerful content based retrieval system and reference database for law enforcement all around the world.  Only a small percentage of the number of victims out there had been identified, he said, noting that INTERPOL and its Member States had a backlog of material that ran into the tens of millions of files.  The race to connect the next billion internet users in the global South would only exacerbate the current situation, and so only by working together in education and prevention, robust law enforcement and victim identification could the international community hope to manage the issue into the future.

BRITTANY SMITH, European Union Policy Lead for Child Safety at Google Inc., said that Google was working very hard to ensure that child sexual abuse imagery was not available through its services.  Google had 16 teams across the company that worked to rid the web of child sexual abuse content.  Google Search had been refined to further prevent links to child sexual abuse material from appearing in its results, and the Google algorithm did its best to make sense of the content of the Internet and return the most relevant results for people.  Since 2008, Google had been using its “hashing” technology to reliably and proactively detect child sexual abuse imagery, allowing it to quickly identify copies of those images and prevent them from reappearing on its products.  Google was now working to share this technology with others in the industry so that tagged images could also be eliminated from non-Google services.  Google collaborated with law enforcement authorities investigating online crimes against children, and with child-protection non-governmental organizations to process and remove known child sexual abuse webpages from its search results.  Google was also running programmes to teach children and parents about online safety and data protection.   It encouraged children to report harmful content they might come across.  Google had a real responsibility in that regard. 

GABY REYES, Founder and Director of Asociación Crecer en Red of Peru, said that information and communications technologies had changed perceptions of privacy, leisure and expression.  Sexual violence taking place through technology was a big concern in households and schools.  Creating an atmosphere of fear was however not a healthy approach and did not contribute to the discussion, as it conveyed a picture of information and communications technologies that failed to portray their huge potential for empowering children.  It was essential to strike a balance between maximizing opportunities for empowerment provided by technology and minimizing the risks that derived from them.  Governments should take responsibility to carry out research to understand how children engaged with technology, and to adopt policies that took children’s perspectives and experience into account.   Children had to be involved in prevention work and were encouraged to share their perceptions of online risks, and parents and teachers should actively accompany children in their interactions with technology from a very early age.   The development of computer programming skills for children was a way to promote their knowledge and critical use of information and communications technologies, and would enable children to improve their management of the digital world as they become smarter users and more aware consumers. 

Interactive Dialogue

European Union stated that offline responses had to be appropriate to online offences.  National law enforcement and child protection systems needed to be well-equipped to work on offline and online forms of violence against children, consistent with maintaining an open Internet.  Bahrain reaffirmed the importance of the discussion, noting that the greatest challenge facing the contemporary international community was the exploitation of the Internet by ideological fundamentalists and terrorists, who recruited children to commit criminal acts.  Council of Europe noted that while the digital world offered children learning, participation and communication opportunities, it was the responsibility of States to ensure that their rights were upheld efficiently in that environment.  It reminded that the Cybercrime Convention was a global treaty criminalising acts committed on or through computer systems.  Uruguay stated that it was vital that States adapted their legislation and worked with the private sector to investigate and identify victims and perpetrators.  Without holding Internet companies responsible, it would be impossible to tackle the problem of child online exploitation.  Israel stated that it had taken steps to implement its commitment to protect children from online sexual exploitation through legislation, prosecution, institutional changes, education, staff training and public activity.  Congo said it had been striving to minimize risks for children in the online environment through various legal acts; it had also established the Advisory Council for the Youth and awareness raising campaigns.

Maldives said that being among the countries with the highest level of Internet users in South Asia with nearly a quarter of the population surfing the Internet, and with children comprising one third of the population, the threats posed by child exploitation and cyberbullying were a serious concern for Maldives.  Mexico expressed belief that crimes through the creation of children’s images were a global problem, asking panellists what the impact might be of the correct dissemination of guiding principles for businesses on the matter.  Bosnia and Herzegovina detailed national measures undertaken to mitigate the abuse of children, including an action plan for child protection and prevention of violence against children through information and communications technologies.  Italy asked the panellists how States, international organizations and the corporate sector could work together to address the challenges inherent in the transnational nature of the Internet when it came to detection, investigation, victim identification and enforcement?  France said that social networks should not be misused to disseminate harmful images or messages, and gave examples of domestic initiatives such as a free helpline to respond to concerns of families.  Slovenia gave statistics on Internet use among children and youth nationally, and also detailed initiatives adopted, such as the publication of a handbook to help guide teachers in addressing cyberbullying.

International Catholic Child Bureau said that an adequate legislative framework and the training of law enforcement officials were crucial to combat online crimes against children, and underlined the role of Internet providers, who should pay special attention to the safety of the youngest Internet users.  Africa Culture Internationale said that States should adopt strict legislation that required authorities with responsibilities in child protection to consider any complaints coming from children, and urged the Human Rights Council to take children’s rights into consideration. 

Replies by the Panellists

ANDRES FRANCO, Deputy Director of the Private Sector Engagement at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that UNICEF had developed guidelines for Internet companies to prevent violence and to promote citizenship on the Internet.  UNICEF had also worked with States and supported them in adopting national action plans for the protection of children online.  UNICEF was working directly with companies to investigate and address child-rights risks, and cooperating with them on innovative solutions, for example on birth registration.  Child-rights impact assessment tools were being developed for mobile companies. 

BRITTANY SMITH, European Union Policy Lead for Child Safety at Google Inc., underlined the importance of self-regulation, and assured of Google’s determination not only to respect the law, but to go beyond that.  Google had developed privacy and parental controls, and had conducted awareness-raising activities. 

MICHAEL MORAN, Assistant Director, Vulnerable Communities, International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), said that one of the fundamental points to be made was the principle of “children first”.  INTERPOL strongly supported international cooperation, and encouraged cross-ministry specialist boards to be established.  Hotlines and law enforcement should also work more closely.  He then referred to the Council of Europe Guidelines for Cooperation between Law Enforcement and Internet Service Providers against Cybercrime.

GABY REYES, Founder and Director of Asociación Crecer en Red, Peru, said that when campaigns were carried out, there were a lot of myths that needed to be done away with, one of which was that kids were not aware of the risks.  But she said she was constantly taken aback by how aware children were of the risks.  The risks of technologies had to be reduced, and the international community also needed to look at the issue in a comprehensive fashion.

HAKON FOSTERVOLD HOYDAL, Senior feature writer at VG (Verdens Gang AS) said that
it was easy for many media to think stories such as the one he had reported would not be read.  He had been told by an editor that misery did not sell.  The downloaders were in one way heroes for daring to speak to reporters, he said, adding that that was one of the reasons the article he and his reporting partner had written had been one of most-read articles in Norway last year.  They had had a hard time getting in touch with victims, he said, but when they met one victim and people read her interview, a lot of other victims came forward to tell their stories.

MARTA SANTOS PAIS, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children, noted that there were good practices out there, that prevention had to be improved, and that incidents should be combatted.

Interactive Debate

Venezuela expressed concern over the rapid expansion of online sexual exploitation of children, noting that in order to combat that phenomenon there was a need for national and international involvement and heavy penalisation of such crimes.  Argentina said that new technologies helped to improve children’s knowledge and skills.  However, they also posed many risks and to minimize them Argentina had promulgated a law on online crimes, and had reformed its Penal Code accordingly.  Bolivia noted that new technologies on a daily basis were a fundamental part of children’s lives and brought about many positive educational and communication possibilities for them.  Bolivia asked how it could reconcile greater levels of control and at the same time safeguard freedom of expression. 

Montenegro said that protecting children from abuses and sexual exploitation through modern means of communication was of great importance for each society.  To that end the Government had launched the initiative “Safe Internet” with the aim to educate children on the safe use of the Internet.  Belarus said that, in addition to various legal acts, it had been active in the preventive work with parents and family clubs, awareness-raising campaigns, and individual consultations on the safe use of the Internet.  Albania stated that multilateral and coordinated action between and within governments and law enforcement agencies, including non-State actors, such as industry, academia and civil society, was a timely measure to prevent harmful information that put at risk children and their lives.  

Portugal said that information and communications technologies had brought enormous benefits to children’s lives, including the rights to education and freedom of expression, but also made them more vulnerable to situations of sexual exploitation.  How could States better protect and redress children victims of sexual exploitation through information and communications technologies and avoid their stigmatization?  Iran stated that information and communications technologies could play a catalytic role as an enabler to development, but leaving children in exposure to online harm could negatively impact their personal development and well-being.  Adherence to the religious, ethical and moral principles should be seriously taken into account as an effective way of prevention.  United Kingdom believed that technology was a powerful and transformative force for growth, but it was also enabling new forms of crimes against children that ought to be tackled with urgency.  All United Kingdom police forces were now connected to the Child Abuse Image Database, but to tackle online sexual abuse, States had to work together and act globally, including through the WePROTECT initiative. 

Kyrgyzstan stated that only by joining forces could online sexual exploitation and abuse of children be combatted.  Social networks should be included in information campaigns warning children of dangers online.  Each child had the right to have his or her honour and dignity protected.  Sudan welcomed the work to protect children from violence, noting that it had passed legislation in that regard.  Sudan had undertaken a special programme for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of children who used to be with rebel groups.  Special focus was placed on the quality of education, under the supervision of several national institutions.  Mali said that its Constitution had several articles on the protection and promotion of children’s rights.  With more than half of its population being under 18, Mali was committed to the children’s cause, and was ready to prevent and combat the new threat against children through the usage of information and communications technologies.   
 
Arab Commission for Human Rights expressed concerns about the children victims of the conflict in Yemen, where they were recruited by all parties and sent to war instead of school.  It called for the adoption of rehabilitation programmes for these children.  European Centre for Law and Justice said that there was an urgent need for better regulation of the Internet to protect children, and condemned the practice of “Bach bazi” which involved the exploitation of young boys for sexual entertainment and pleasure, particularly in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  European Union of Public Relations noted that children were not simply passive recipients of information, but they were also engaged actors in the online world.  There was an urgent need to establish programmes for information and communications technologies for the recovery, psychological rehabilitation and reintegration of victims of child sexual abuse and exploitation.

Thailand said that it recently amended its Criminal Code to prescribe punishment of up to five years imprisonment for possession of child pornography, up to seven years for distribution and up to 10 years for production and trade.  Organization of Islamic Cooperation said that all forms of child exploitation could be better addressed if good practices were largely shared and if families were better included in prevention efforts.  Pakistan said that its Constitution, laws and policies safeguarded the rights of children, and that its Prevention of Electronic Crime Bill was being drafted and would state that whoever committed an offense against a minor would be imprisoned for up to 10 years.  Monaco said that it attached high priority to the protection of children, as illustrated by its adoption of a law on strengthening the criminalization of offenses against children, and its ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on the protection of children from exploitation and sexual abuse.  United Arab Emirates said that the misuse of information and communications technologies had become a threat to the health of children.  Developments on the Internet needed to be followed up closely, and such monitoring needed to be done in both developed and developing countries.  The United Arab Emirates was working on raising awareness, including among families, and was also leading an international task force in the field. 

Concluding Remarks

MARTA SANTOS PAIS, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children, thanked the participants for their questions.  She asked how laws and normative frameworks could promote a coordinated response to online child exploitation and abuse at the international level.

MICHAEL MORAN, Assistant Director, Vulnerable Communities, International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), explained that a clear law was required that empowered police and judges to send clear messages to citizens and to promote zero tolerance for online child exploitation.  It would also help raise public awareness and thus prevent further crimes.  It was important to differentiate between child abuse material and pornography.  Inappropriate contact with children continued to be a very difficult issue in a lot of areas, and it caused a lot of anxiety to parents, caretakers and teachers, as well as to children.  Online grooming and inappropriate contact must be legislated for.  A coordinated international response would look like the WePROTECT initiative launched in the United Kingdom by the United Nations Children’s Fund.  A global task force for senior police force could also be established.  There were many stakeholders involved in prevention, starting from child online exploitation, child rights, and freedom of expression advocacy groups.  All of those stakeholders should work together.

MARTA SANTOS PAIS, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children, asked how the legislation needed to define child sensitive mechanisms in order to encourage children to voice their concerns and make complaints.

GABY REYES, Founder and Director of Asociación Crecer en Red from Peru, responded that one of the rights affected by technology was the right to protection against all forms of violence, as well as the right to freedom of expression.  Those rights had to be looked at in a holistic fashion.  New technologies had an empowering aspect.  As children increased their digital awareness and knowledge, online violence could be reduced.  In Latin America children who had digital skills were not afraid of making complaints in case of violations.  Public prevention policies therefore needed to take into account that aspect of the issue.  There was a temptation to have repressive Internet use policies.  But preventive policies needed to be above repression. 

BRITTANY SMITH, European Union Policy Lead for Child Safety at Google Inc., said that Google had addressed harmful content on You Tube through community guidelines and values, encouraging users to report videos with hatred, pornographic or violent content.  In addition, Google had established a programme that empowered individuals, organizations, governments and non-governmental organizations to review material.  The programme worked well through collaboration between a wide range of players. 

HAKON FOSTERVOLD HOYDAL, Senior Feature Writer at Norwegian daily Verdens Gang, said that children should be empowered to regain control of their stories.  The Internet was all around everyone, and it was the sea in which children were swimming.  Children had to be taught to swim in it and not to drown. 

MARTA SANTOS PAIS, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children, stressed again the importance of a national coordinated approach and of involving the children themselves.  Empowering children was the first line of prevention and protection.  Coordination was also necessary at the regional and international levels to address the trans-border nature of these crimes.  She also stressed the importance of education and of involving families and schools in prevention efforts.  Lastly, she encouraged States to collect data and statistics on the use of the Internet by children.   


For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC16/019E