11 new countries join flagship global initiative to combat online child sexual exploitation and abuse

Disrupting Harm is a large-scale research project that provides robust evidence across sectors, on children’s exposure to online sexual exploitation and abuse, and how countries can more effectively respond to this crime. Today, ECPAT International, INTERPOL, Safe Online and UNICEF Innocenti are announcing the implementation of Disrupting Harm in eleven new countries: Armenia, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Jordan, Montenegro, Morocco, North Macedonia, Pakistan, Serbia and Tunisia.

This second round of investment (totalling USD $7.5m) will enable robust research on online child sexual exploitation and abuse, conducted by Disrupting Harm partners with support from national expert organizations. By 2025, evidence-informed action plans will be produced for each country to strengthen their capacity to prevent and respond to online child sexual exploitation abuse. 

In today’s increasingly digital world, the internet has become an integral part of children and young people’s lives, providing enormous opportunities for communication, education and entertainment. At the same time, it can also present a serious threat to their safety and well-being. Unfortunately, there is very little solid evidence available on the scale of these risks, which groups of children are more likely to be harmed, and where or how this happens.

In 2019, in response to the growing threat of online child sexual exploitation and abuse, Safe Online invested an initial USD $7m in the Disrupting Harm large-scale research project, implemented by ECPAT International, INTERPOL and UNICEF. Disrupting Harm produces crucial evidence on children’s exposure to online sexual exploitation and abuse, and assesses how national protection systems are responding to this crime. Based on this research it proposes ways in which leaders and policy-makers can help strengthen online child sexual exploitation and abuse prevention and response approaches to more effectively address this issue.

Taking a holistic and cross-sectoral approach, Disrupting Harm conducts nationally representative household surveys with children and their caregivers; reviews existing national laws and policies; engages with national law enforcement agencies to understand their capacity to effectively respond to these crimes; documents the experiences of children and young people who have experienced online sexual exploitation and abuse; and studies the experiences of frontline welfare workers and justice professionals who are working with cases of online child sexual exploitation and abuse to understand their capacities and needs.

Disrupting Harm has so far been implemented in thirteen countries across South-East Asia and Eastern and Southern Africa.

Headline findings from these countries show that:

In response, a number of these countries have already initiated policy and legislative changes to strengthen prevention and response, for example:

    • In line with Disrupting Harm recommendations, the Government of Malaysia amended existing legislation to ban sexual extortion and livestreaming of child sexual abuse, making these criminal offences. This move better enables the effective prosecution of these crimes. These amendments represent a significant strengthening of the country’s legislative framework in this area and contribute to creating a safer online world for children in Malaysia.
    • In Indonesia, Disrupting Harm recommendations were used to help develop a National Roadmap on Child Online Protection and informed the revision of national standards and training modules for integrated child protection services. Findings from the program were also applied to the development of a web-based platform strengthening children’s awareness of violence, including online safety.
    • In Tanzania, insights and recommendations were integrated into education and training materials developed by the Ministry of Health.

Today, ECPAT International, INTERPOL, Safe Online and UNICEF Innocenti are announcing the implementation of the second phase of the Disrupting Harm program in eleven new countries. These are: Armenia, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Jordan, Montenegro, Morocco, North Macedonia, Pakistan, Serbia and Tunisia. The research will be implemented between 2023-2025 through close collaboration between a range of different actors including national UNICEF offices, civil society organisations, ECPAT network members, law enforcement and INTERPOL National Central Bureaus, independent expert organizations, and government institutions.

Findings from the first phase of Disrupting Harm can be found here: https://safeonline.global/disrupting-harm/#findings As the findings from the second phase emerge, they will be accessible here.

Image: © UNICEF:UN051254

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