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What is the Online Safety Bill and why does it matter for child protection online?


What is the Online Safety Bill and why does it matter for child protection online?

The Online Safety Bill is an opportunity for the UK to lead the way in protecting children from online sexual exploitation – but survivors are now calling for it to go further by addressing livestreamed sexual exploitation too.

On Tuesday 19th April, for the first time, the Online Safety Bill was debated in Parliament.

This Bill could become a ground-breaking moment in protecting children from online sexual exploitation. By listening to IJM and survivors’ recommendations, the Bill could be pushed to further protect children from online abuse – including amendments that require online platforms to take action to prevent the creation or production of new child sexual exploitation and abuse material, including livestreamed abuse.

The Online Safety Bill seeks to establish a regulatory framework to tackle harmful content and activity online.

It places duties of care on online platforms towards their users for illegal content, including child sexual abuse materials, and holds them accountable for protecting children on their platforms.

The Bill requires online platforms to remove child sexual abuse materials and report them to law enforcement, increasing the visibility and transparency of offences, and the ability of law enforcement to hold offenders to account. It also requires online platforms to mitigate the risk of children encountering harmful material.

This is a positive step forward in tackling the dissemination of child abuse materials. However, we are aware that the online sexual exploitation of children cannot be fully addressed without also limiting the opportunity to abuse children and preventing the production of new child abuse material.

These platforms aren’t just where abusive material is published, but they themselves are used as tools to commit abuse. We know from our work in the Philippines that children are being sexually abused in real-time by traffickers, often on the mainstream platforms that we use every day, and are livestreaming the abuse for sex offenders in places like the UK to watch from the comfort of their own homes.

This week, survivors of online sexual exploitation wrote to the UK Government, sharing their expertise and experience to ask them to strengthen the Bill and prevent livestreamed abuse.

We stand with survivors of livestreamed child sexual exploitation, like Ruby, who are calling for the Bill to be strengthened. Ruby was just 16 years old when she was persuaded by traffickers to travel 650km from her home, lured with the false promise of a job in a computer shop. When she arrived, she was locked up in a house with a guard outside and sexually abused live over the internet for offenders to watch online.

Trapped in this unimaginable abuse, Ruby was found and brought to safety by IJM and Philippine authorities. Today, she is courageously using her voice to recommend what action needs to be taken to protect other children from sexual exploitation – including recently speaking to the BBC about strengthening the Bill.

Since 2016, IJM has worked together with Philippine authorities to bring over 900 victims to safety (50 percent of whom are less than 12 years old), and has helped to restrain over 300 suspected perpetrators from harming other children. As well as bringing children currently experiencing abuse to safety, it is critical that we protect future children from ever experiencing this appalling abuse in the first place. That’s why this Bill is such an important opportunity.

Online sexual exploitation of children is a global crime, requiring a truly global response — a response that ends both the supply and demand.

Protecting children from online abuse requires policy and legislative change in demand-side countries like the UK, the third largest global consumer of livestreamed abuse. That’s why IJM UK has been making recommendations and submitting evidence over the course of the last year, while our team in the Philippines continues its vital work partnering with local and international law enforcement to bring children to safety through the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Center, and by supporting survivors with trauma informed care.

The Bill is a crucial building block in protecting children from the growing crime of online sexual exploitation. Amending it in line with our recommendations will limit the opportunity to abuse children and improve accountability for offenders, protecting more children.

Sign up to receive IJM’s emails to learn more about our work, for updates on the Online Safety Bill, and how you can partner with us to help end online sexual exploitation of children.

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