In 2019, online grooming had tripled on certain social networks, according to NSPCC. One in five victims were under 12. Grooming is one of the key causes of children going missing, often leading to child sexual exploitation.

In spring 2020, Europol reported a surge in online distribution of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) during the COVID-19 crisis.

As civil society organisations defending and promoting children’s rights, we therefore much welcomed the European Commission’s Strategy against Child Sexual Abuse, presented on July 24 2020. The fight against sexual abuse is one that requires joint efforts by all actors involved.

Law enforcement focuses its efforts on the gravest forms of abuse against the youngest children as the volumes currently circulating exceed by far their capacity. Online service providers have therefore been an important ally in the fight against sexual abuse online.

On a yearly basis, 17 million voluntary reports of CSAM and grooming of children are made to authorities by internet service providers using technological tools to detect the offending material on their networks. Almost 3 million of these reports pertain to material hosted in the European Union.

The European Electronic Communications Code entering into force in December may inadvertently make these voluntary reports impossible, by expanding the definition of electronic communications to which the e-Privacy Directive applies.

The Commission’s recent initiative to propose a temporary derogation from certain provisions of the e-Privacy Directive, aims to allow for the continued use of specific technologies for the limited purpose of combatting child sexual abuse online. It will do what is urgent and necessary to continue to protect children’s right to physical and moral integrity.

While the derogation may raise considerations on privacy we are adamant that the protection of children from having photographs and videos graphically depicting their abuse being spread widely – as well as their protection from situations of online grooming and imminent danger – justifies such a specific, limited, proportionate and temporary derogation until a permanent solution balancing the different rights is found upon consultation of all stakeholders concerned.

The time window for action is short: if the European Electronic Communications Code comes into action before this proposal is adopted, it will leave children unprotected from grooming and unable to take back control over their images, for years to come.

We, therefore, urge all Members of the European Parliament to support the proposal, so that a long-term solution can be developed while ending the trauma now and protecting children from grooming and child victims of sexual abuse from revictimization through the endless reproduction and distribution of material documenting their abuse.

Download the PDF version here.

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