Sexual Exploitation of Children Online (SECO) refers to crimes committed by offenders who are using Information Communications Technology (ICT) and/or the Internet to facilitate the sexual abuse of children.

The issue

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have become an integral part of modern life, and play an important role in the educational and social development of children. However, they also leave children increasingly vulnerable to new and evolving forms of sexual exploitation.

Sexual exploitation of children online (SECO) can include (virtual) Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM), child pornography conducts (such as production, distribution, downloading), grooming of children for sexual purposes, sexual extortion of children, and the live streaming of child sexual abuse in real-time. What is important to remember, despite the ‘virtual’ nature of these acts, is that behind the screen are real children.

Identifying and investigating offenders is difficult, as they are able to continually adapt technology to enable their sexual abuse and exploitation, and avoid detection. Since the Internet is not confined by territorial boundaries, most incidents of sexual exploitation of children online are multi-jurisdictional, with offences being committed across or within multiple countries all over the world. This makes the issue even more complex.

Our response

An effective response must be an international, cross-sector one. No single government or organisation can tackle the problem alone – we need to work together.

ECPAT runs a programme set up to combat the sexual exploitation of children online, the main objectives of which are:

  • The development and implementation of stronger legal frameworks
  • Wider deployment of technical tools to reduce the availability of child sexual abuse material online
  • Law enforcement support for capacity-building in relation to victim identification and victim care
  • Public information and awareness-raising to support behavioural change

The SECO programme works on these objectives through four main courses of action:

We conduct research to collect information related to the sexual exploitation of children online. An example is the Global Review, which analyses national laws in different jurisdictions in light of international and/or regional standards.

We develop reliable data to support our core advocacy goals at the international (e.g. UN), regional (e.g. African Union, ASEAN) and national level, including the production of factsheets and papers.

We work with ECPAT members and other civil society organisations to increase awareness and understanding of the sexual exploitation of children online and build skills for more efficient advocacy work at a national level.

We build partnerships with governments, law enforcement agencies, the technology and Internet industry, NGOs and United Nations agencies, to tackle the sexual exploitation of children online more effectively.

ECPAT is involved in global platforms and initiatives, such as the UK-led #WeProtect global multi-stakeholder response against online child abuse and exploitation; the Virtual Global Taskforce which is an international alliance of law enforcement agencies working together with the private sector to combat online sexual exploitation; and the Child Online Protection initiative established by the International Telecommunication Union.