Two safety campaigns to prevent the spread of child sexual abuse material and help protect children in Africa from online abuse have been launched.
The campaigns: “Help Children be Children” and the “Child Safety Online Africa Portal” aim at increasing public awareness of the impact of child sexual abuse material and help prevent its spread in targeted countries on the African continent.
Additionally, the campaigns seek to train law enforcement and child helplines in target countries and positively engage policymakers and stakeholders through roundtables to join the global fight against child sexual abuse material.
The campaigns were launched by MTN Group in partnership with Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), Meta, the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC) and Child Helpline International, with support from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Speaking at the launch, Ms Nompilo Morafo, Chief Sustainability and Corporate Affairs Officer at MTN said protecting children online was a global challenge, which required a global approach.
She said African countries must, therefore, join forces to ensure that such abuses were eradicated to protect children from fear and humiliation.
“As we lead digital solutions for Africa’s progress, we have a critical role in ensuring that every African child is kept safe online. In alignment with our African values, we need to join forces to create a safe online village for our children. One where they are free from fear, humiliation, and abuse. One where they can have a normal childhood,” she stressed.
Mr Bob Cunningham, President and Chief Executive Officer, International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, said the prevalence of child sexual abuse material was a growing threat in Africa and around the world.
He said every time abusive images were viewed or shared, children were re-victimised, adding that, it was, therefore, essential that such issues were reported, and local authorities had the tools and capacities to protect child victims.
Data from the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) indicate that the number of reported cases of child sexual abuse images and videos uploaded from the African continent grew by a staggering 81 per cent to almost a 2.4million between 2019 and 2020.
“This awareness campaign is a crucial step to reaching parents, caregivers, and communities to help prevent future abuse before it happens,” Mr Cunningham said.
Madam Emma Hardy, Communications Director, IWF, said a total of 49 portals had been launched worldwide, including 23 in Africa, providing a tool to report illegal imagery to millions.
She said through the portals, IWF and its partners were working with governments, law enforcement units and other organisations to enable every single person to report child sexual abuse material online.
Mr David Miles, Head of Safety at Meta for Europe, Middle East and Africa, said for more than a decade, Meta had been a leader in child safety globally, adding that: “We’ve helped build the tools used to investigate this terrible crime, rescue children and bring justice to victims.
“While we invest heavily in industry-leading tools to prevent such abuse from happening in the first place, it’s also important we spread awareness through campaigns and partnerships like this one so no child should ever have to face this abuse, whether offline or online,” he added.
Madam Carmen Corbin, Advisor for the UNODC, Global Programme on Cybercrime in Africa, said building strong capacities in the national criminal justice sectors in Africa to investigate and prosecute online child exploitation remained one of the office’s programme priorities.
“But we are also aware that public awareness and prevention campaigns are the first lines of defence that will make communities, families, and children able to avoid and report child sexual abuse material online. We want a safer Internet for all children, a place where they can learn, play and develop their talents without being threatened by predators,” she noted.
Mr Patrick Krens, Executive Director of Child Helpline International, said: “If we want to be more effective and efficient in our combat against online sexual exploitation and abuse of children and young people, we must invest more time, money and human resources in the 3Ps of Prevention, Protection and Prosecution.
“For all three areas, it is important to listen to what children have to say to us and each other. Every child has a voice, and we believe that no child should be left unheard.”