International Cooperation And Better Reporting Tools: Paedophilic Activities In Europe Surge Extensively During COVID-19 Lockdown

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Paedophilic Activities on Dark Web: It is almost over three months now that the lockdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic have been prevailing. In Europe, online child sex abuse or most commonly termed as the paedophilic activities have taken a steep path during this lockdown period. The campaigners and the lawyers have warned calling for the more significant international cooperation along with the better reporting tools in the bid to halt the affliction.

In several European countries, the schools are shut till now to attempt curbing the pandemic. Children are spending more time in the online sphere, which makes them more susceptible to abusers. Due to lockdown, all of these abusers are home most of the days, as stated by human rights.

Almudena Olaguibel of UNICEF Spain, who is the U.N.’s children’s agency says on this matter that the parents have been assigned work from home while the children are not at the schools. To keep the children calm, the parents have loosened the limits and norms on the usage of the internet. Moreover, the abusers are stuck in homes and getting bored, resulting in using the internet for long hours.

Europol, the block’s law enforcement agency has stated that the National Law Enforcement Authorities in 27 European Union States have delineated of a rise in the paedophilic activities as it has been carefully observed during the coronavirus pandemic. Furthermore, Europol adds that all of these countries have witnessed increased access to illegal websites and closed down more of the online platforms where the child sex materials are being exchanged.

A report from Europol revealed that in March the calls to the Spanish hotlines in the bid to report child sex abuse had been monitored. The result yielded that the reported child sex abuse rose to the maximum record level for that particular period of the year.

Detective Chief Inspector Matt Darnell stressed in a press release that had been published last week that in March, the Thames Valley Police of Britain had witnessed a 146% leap in the reports of the online paedophilic activities as compared to the same time the previous year. Unfortunately, they believe that the criminals have looked to exploit the truth that more children have been staying at home and being online.

Additional Information

Gioia Scappucci, the executive secretary to the most known Lanzarote Committee has cautioned that the tools for reporting the child sex abuse are yet not good enough in most of the European countries. The Lanzarote Committee works to protect the children from sexual abuse and exploitation. Moreover, Scappucci said that the States are quite aware of the risks of the increased child sexual abuse in both the online and offline forms during the lockdown and have been actively taking initiatives to raise awareness of all of such risks. Also, the resources to deal with the increased reporting are not always available and needs to be scaled up from time to time. He says that more official data must be gathered in many countries on what in actual is happening during this pandemic, and that how it is being handled.

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Image: The Independent

One of the many trends that the experts are seeing is the massive surge in children involved in producing their own sexual materials, either unknowingly or in response to “sextortion” (a form of extortion involving sexual images or acts as its currency). All of these sexual materials are being produced either in the bedrooms or at various spots in their homes. This is while their parents are next room or are unavailable for some time. These kinds of media are used to be shared typically on the dark web, which is a section of the internet that is accessible only via the specific softwares or authorisation but is also extensively appearing on the everyday platforms.

Olaguible and other such campaigners state that the social media companies need to be more proactive regarding finding out of the child sexual materials like tapes and images on their websites. She further warned that even though some of the companies self-regulate in such matters, it is not enough for now. It would even be better in case the government takes serious steps and regulates what they are doing more stringently.

A spokesperson for the social media Twitter has informed that the platform bears “zero tolerance” for any of the materials that promote or features the child sexual exploitation or paedophilic activities. In one of the emailed comments, she had said that they insistently battle against the online child sexual abuse and they have heavily invested in the tools and technology in the bid to enforce their policy. Once Twitter has completely removed the content, the company immediately reports about it to the Non-Profit National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) as required by the U.S. Federal Law. NCMEC is the U.S. based company. Further, the group make reports that are available to the law enforcement agencies around the world for aiding with investigations and the prosecutions. Both Facebook and Instagram did not reply to the requests for comment.

Global Issue

Britain’s Data Protection watchdog had published a draft code last year where it listed the recommendations for the online service providers that it said would set a global standard for the online privacy of the children. Amid the suggestions by the Information Commissioner’s Office was a prohibition on targeting below 18s with the so-termed “nudge” techniques. The nudge techniques are a set of features that encourage the users to stay online for long hours so that the website or the app can collect information on them.

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Image: Financial Express

A judge and the vice president of Themis (a Spanish association of women lawyers) named Manuela Torres Calzada agrees that there are requirements to be stringent regulation of the social media firms in the bid to tackle online child sexual abuse. But, the national governments face serious hindrance in doing so. Moreover, the prosecution of these types of crimes is pretty tricky as there is not sufficient international coordination or convention. Most of the time, the individuals who diffuse these kinds of media get sanctioned while the social media companies escape from it.

As explained by the independent data security expert Marcelino Madrigal, if the U.S. based social media company suspects a criminal activity on its website, and committed by a Spaniard (an example), it comes under no obligation to share that information with the Spanish cops. Additionally, if the Spanish police require information from a U.S. based company, it becomes mandatory to make a formal request to the American courts for judicial assistance. This might cause delays and often leads to cases that are being shelved. He stressed that he has been asking the social networks for over ten years to directly notify the instances along with the data to the prosecutors in paedophiles’ origin country or cops. They solely comply with the U.S. law by sending them to the non-profit NCMEC. Also, the Spanish judges most often end up archiving the cases mentioning a lack of cooperation by the social networks. Online child sexual abuse material is a global issue and not merely a national one.

Source: The Dispatch


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