Brussels 11 May 2022

Today, on Wednesday, 11 May, the European Commission published a legislative proposal to prevent and combat child sexual abuse (CSA).

The past years have seen a worrying rise in child sexual abuse material (CSAM) online, such as videos and pictures. In 2021, 29 million reports were submitted to the US National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children. Between 2010 and 2020, there was also a significant increase in reports in the EU, from 23 000 to more than 1 million. Over 60% of online child sexual abuse material worldwide is hosted on servers based in the EU (Factsheet on CSA ). The Internet Watch Foundation further reports that, in 2021, Europe was (still) responsible for hosting a large share of CSAM.

An estimated 1 in 5 of children in Europe become victims of sexual abuse. Child sexual abuse and exploitation are strongly related to children going missing, both as a cause and a consequence. Grooming, or the ‘solicitation of children’ for exploitation, both online and offline, is a growing problem that leads young people to go missing and become victims of sexual exploitation and trafficking.

Online child sexual abuse is preventable. The skills and technology to spot and stop online abuse exist.

Missing Children Europe therefore welcomes the proposal by the European Commission for this unprecedented legislation. At first reading, we welcome:

  • the strong obligations for service providers to minimise the risk that their services are misused for online child sexual abuse, and to detect, report and remove child sexual abuse material from their services,
  • the inclusion of grooming for child sexual abuse in these obligations, and the obligation for app stores to prevent children from downloading apps that present a high risk for grooming;
  • the setting up of the European Centre to prevent and combat child sexual abuse and to facilitate assistance to victims and survivors;
  • the creation of national authorities in the EU Member States (‘Coordinating Authorities on Child Sexual Abuse issues’) empowered to impose penalties in case of infringements of the legislation;
  • the collection of statistics to ensure transparency and accountability of the process and effectiveness of the legislation.

These proposals are essential to protect children from seeing photographs and videos graphically depicting their abuse being spread widely – as well as from situations of online grooming and imminent danger.

Only when service providers are made responsible for detecting, reporting and removing online child sexual abuse material within the digital spaces they operate, and only when governments, society and the industry work together, only then can we keep digital spaces safe for children and protect them from sexual abuse.

As the negotiations with the European Parliament and Council on the proposal start up, Missing Children Europe will continue to work closely with its partners and other child rights NGO’s to advocate for robust legislation to be put in place, to ensure that all children’s rights are respected.