Fast paced technological innovation and high-speed internet has led to advances in information and communication technologies (ICT) that have transformed societies around the world. Children now have unprecedented access to computers and mobile phones and tend to adopt the use of technology at an early age, resulting in ICTs becoming embedded in their lives.
The digital age has exacerbated the exploitation of children and made of children more vulnerable than ever before. ICTs can deliver increased profits for criminal enterprises by reducing the costs of production and distribution of child sexual abuse material. Human traffickers may also carry out their activities primarily, or even exclusively, via mobile phone. The use of mobile phones and the Internet further assists offenders in hiding their identities and obfuscating activities, thus reducing risk of detection.
In 2013, experts from international organizations, law enforcement, specialists on the subject of cyber-crimes and members of academia got together in Vienna to discuss the Effects of New Technologies on the Abuse and Exploitation of Children. The Study covers the main forms of ICT-facilitated child abuse and exploitation, including:
• the creation and distribution of child pornography
• the commercial sexual exploitation of children,
• solicitation and grooming,
• exposure to harmful content
According to the findings “Children can easily engage with strangers and exchange large data files, while the possibilities for parental supervision and monitoring are restricted. Children are also at particular risk as they often do not fully understand threats associated with the use of ICTs or are not sufficiently aware that, once shared, control over such material is effectively waived.”
Who is most at risk?
Besides the effect of prolonged exposure to digital devices on the brain chemistry of our children likened to the highs achieved on Cocaine, the danger of falling prey to human traffickers and sex offenders is very real. Those most at risk are:
• Girls, who account for the majority of victims of child abuse and exploitation.
• Children with prior abuse and family dysfunction – particularly for commercial sexual exploitation.
• Poverty, migration and social isolation can also have negative repercussions.
• Very young children are increasingly victimized in child sexual abuse material and child sex trafficking and exploitation.
• Adolescents face the highest risk of cyberenticement, exposure to harmful material and cyberbullying.
Discuss the dangers of sharing personal information online with your children. make sure that they understand that intimate photographs should never be shared on any digital device. Consider watching a movie about cyber bullying with your children and ask them what they learnt or if they have experienced similar abuse from friends at school. Do your very best to open the lines of communication so that your children feel comfortable discussing this with you. It’s all about creating trust in the end.
*Content adapted from UNODC Study on the Effects of New Information Technologies on the Abuse and Exploitation of Children