New Study Highlights Efforts to End Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation

Photo: The index highlights the relationship between gender-based violence and child sexual abuse, says Dr. Joanna Rubinstein, President and CEO of the World Childhood Foundation USA, top left with children in the collage by IDN-INPS.

In Out of the Shadows 2017 thriller, a newly married detective and his pregnant wife move into their dream home unaware of its dark history. When his wife claims their baby is being tormented by a supernatural force and seeks the help of a renegade demonologist, he must investigate the past to save his family.

Out of the Shadows, released by the World Childhood Foundation USA (WCF) on January 15, is a thriller with a difference. Shining light on the response to child sexual abuse and exploitation, it declares: Sexual violence against children takes place mostly in the shadows, but it is happening everywhere, regardless of a country’s economic status or its citizens’ quality of life.

It is a universal threat – no boy or girl is immune – and one that is enabled by vastly improved communications connectivity and mobility. Yet this especially pernicious form of abuse is rarely discussed, even though it has lingering and sometimes devastating socio-economic consequences, it warns.

The Index covering 40 countries was developed through a first-of-its-kind research programme conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) with support from the World Childhood Foundation, the Oak Foundation and the Carlson Family Foundation.

“The selection of the countries was designed to represent not only the global situation of children – these 40 countries collectively cover 70% of the world’s population of children – but also actions being taken across regions and income groups,” says Dr. Joanna Rubinstein, WCF President and CEO.

“Countries from all continents are represented, as are the least developed to the most developed economies. We also selected both countries who have already been acknowledged for taking actions and those that are lagging,” Dr. Rubinstein tells IDN.

“The safety and well-being of the world’s children must remain a global priority,” said Her Royal Highness Princess Madeleine of Sweden, co-founder of #EyesWideOpen initiative of WCF.

“With approximately 200 million of the world’s children experiencing sexual violence each year, the need to document and benchmark the global effort to prevent child sexual violence has never been more important. The Out of the Shadows report provides vital data to track the efforts of countries to end child sexual abuse and exploitation.”

Dr. Rubenstein will be presenting the findings of the study at a meeting of the UNESCO Broadband Commission for Sustainability in Davos, Switzerland, on January 22. She is a commissioner and a co-chair together with the CEO of Zain new Working Group on Child Safety Online.

The forthcoming meeting is important because the new index looks at the response of the telecoms and Internet service providers to child sexual abuse. “Sharing the results of this 40 country research with the major corporate leaders can help to engage them in developing safer internet platforms to minimize children’s exposure to harmful and illegal activities,” Dr. Rubinstein tells IDN.

The executive summary of the study says: “There is evidence that gender inequality is linked to the acceptance of violence against women and girls, and to sexual violence against children.” Asked how can then gender equality, Sustainable Development Goal 5, be achieved, the WCF CEO says: “The index does not try to answer how gender equality can be achieved, but it does highlight the relationship between gender-based violence and child sexual abuse.”

Where social norms support conferring greater power to men, men are more likely to say that they have perpetuated violence against women and children. Therefore, by addressing gender-based violence we will also help to reduce violence against children.

“One way of promoting gender equality is scaling up access to secondary education for girls, which we know helps to keep them out of early marriage and improves their employability skills,” she adds.

For much of the 20th century, violence against children was not a global development priority. This changed in 1989 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), establishing a legal imperative to prevent child maltreatment.

“Even then, the elimination of sexual violence against children did not feature prominently until the UN adopted [in September 2015] its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of 17 priorities – and more than 200 indicators – underpinning the global development agenda for 2015-30,” note the authors of the study.

The WCF expects this “groundbreaking tool” to help countries to track their progress toward reaching Sustainable Development Goal target 16.2: “ending abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against, and torture of, children by 2030.”

The Index framework was developed in close consultation with the global expert community, says a WCF media release. The quantitative and qualitative data in the Index were collected and analysed between February and December of 2018 by The EIU project team, employing country experts and regional specialists from its global network.

The Index focuses on four categories: Environment, Legal Framework; Government Commitment and Capacity; Engagement of industry, civil society and media.

The important focus areas in EIU’s research for the Out of the Shadows study included examining engagement and response from the private sector, particularly information and communications technology and travel and tourism industries.

For companies that share data and content online, such as Internet Service Providers and mobile telecoms operators, the existence of a notice and takedown system, which allows members of the public to report potentially unlawful CSA (Child Sexual Abuse) content, has emerged as a global solution and is present in 28 of the 40 countries in the Index.

In the travel and tourism industry, growth of the sexual exploitation of children over the past two decades is linked to increased international and domestic travel, cheaper flights, and the use of mobile technologies.

“The Out of the Shadows Index is a step towards understanding how effective our collective response has been to the tragic and pernicious problem of child sex abuse and exploitation globally and country-by-country. Its rigorous data-driven approach gives us the ability to evaluate the best way forward to attain the ultimate Sustainable Development Goal of ending all child trafficking by 2030,” said Kurt Ekert, president & CEO of Carlson Wagonlit Travel.

“As an organization that operates in the travel and tourism industry, we oppose the use of travel and other advances in technology to engage in child sex abuse and exploitation. We applaud the Carlson Family Foundation for supporting this first-of-its kind benchmarking tool, and we are firmly committed to tracking progress in fighting child sex trafficking and protecting all children from this type of abuse.”

The countries of the Index were scored out of 100 and the countries with the highest overall scores are: 1. United Kingdom (82.7), 2. Sweden (81.5), 3. Canada (75.3), 4. Australia (74.9) and 5. the United States (73.7). (Scores and other additional Index details for all 40 countries are available at: outoftheshadows.eiu.com)

Overall Key findings from the Out of the Shadows study demonstrate that:

CSA and child sexual exploitation (CSE) are pressing concerns for both wealthy and poor countries alike.

Social norms and attitudes toward sex, sexuality and gender matter and gender inequality is linked to the acceptance of violence and to sexual violence against children. 

Boys are overlooked with more than half (21) of the 40 countries lacking legal protections for boys within their child rape laws, and only 17 countries collecting prevalence data about boys. Just five collect prevalence data for boys related to CSE.

Given the scale of the problem, preventative strategies are critical. Only four of the 40 countries have government-supported programs that make prevention services available to at-risk or prospective child sex offenders. [17 January 2019]

Photo: The index highlights the relationship between gender-based violence and child sexual abuse, says Dr. Joanna Rubinstein, President and CEO of the World Childhood Foundation USA, top left with children in the collage by IDN-INPS.

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