On 22 February, the Government House hosted the roundtable “Strengthening the protection of children against online sexual abuse and exploitation: creating an effective national coordination framework”.
The forum was organized on the platform of the specialized committee for coordinating and monitoring the implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (Lanzarote Convention), in an expanded format with the participation of representatives of the State Chancellery, relevant ministries, law enforcement bodies, institutions and authorities in the field of information security and cyber security, management of names and infrastructure CCTLD.md, electronic communications, information technology (STISC, AGE), development partners, international organizations and national NGOs.
Ana Revenco, Minister of Internal Affairs: “Only through tools integrated into the European security system can we protect our children from online dangers”
At the opening of the meeting, Minister of Internal Affairs Ana Revenco said, “We must see the online safety of children as a principle underlying the models of digitization of services. That is where we want to get to, so separate strategies would no longer be needed. They should be integrated in the smallest detail and be in line with European standards.
“Some steps have already been taken. Modules of online safety education for children have been developed and piloted. The concept of the mechanism for reporting online sexual abuse has been developed as a first step towards the establishment of the mechanism. And we worked together with colleagues from Brussels on this subject. This means that we can build a mechanism here and integrate it into the protection mechanism at European level. We have a team who know their mission well. We are now at the stage when cooperation with the ICT sector should be boosted, so that this mechanism could become operational in the shortest time. This is the only way we can be able to protect our children from online dangers, through tools integrated in the European security system,” the minister explained.
Vladislav Cojuhari, head of the Directorate of Public Order and Security and Combating Crime, Ministry of Internal Affairs: “Everything that happens online has consequences offline. Don’t stay there!”
The speaker made a statement addressing the national context in the area of online sexual abuse and exploitation of children:
“The characteristic trends that easily turn into risks of online child abuse are the mirror of the society we live in, for which it is a norm to have high-speed internet connection and availability, growing number of mobile devices, decreasing age of internet users, storage capabilities, sexual blackmail, end-to-end encryption, live streaming, dark web, social networks and communication platforms, games and new socio-cultural norms.”
Cojuhari noted that the age of children sexually exploited via the internet is steadily decreasing, “Almost 60 percent of victims are between 13 and 15 years old, and every tenth child is under 10 years old. Only one in ten child victims reveal their experience of online sexual abuse to their parents or friends. Cases that are identified and investigated, which are very few, do not provide a suitable punishment for abusers.”
Many children are afraid of the negative reaction of those around them. For these reasons, victims delete conversations with criminals or block them, which creates impediments to finding perpetrators of child sexual abuse and exploitation online, those cases remaining unreported.
The factors that favor online child abuse are:
Risky behavior; lack of online safety knowledge among children and parents/guardians; lack of knowledge and tools for the effective investigation of cases of online sexual exploitation; lack of a strategy to promote the online safety of children; existence of stigmatizing social and legal norms, which prevent the child from being treated as a credible witness, worthy of an appropriate treatment for his vulnerability.
Elena Botezatu, executive director of La Strada: “We have initiated a process of monitoring the way in which Moldova responds to online sexual abuse and exploitation of children.”
Regarding the framework of response to online sexual abuse and exploitation of children, recommendations and international commitments, Elena Botezatu presented the Model National Response for preventing and combating online sexual abuse and exploitation of children, recommended by WeProtect Global Alliance. It includes political and governance commitments, legal and social aspects, with visions regarding victim protection, accountability of the ICT industry, as well as media and communication approach: “In 2022, Moldova was selected as a country to pilot the national response methodology for preventing and combating online sexual abuse of children. It will be implemented by La Strada together with ICMEC from the U.S., with support from WeProtect. We hope to come up, as soon as possible, with valuable recommendations in order to finalize the national action plan to strengthen the protection of children against online sexual abuse and exploitation.”
Please note that at the national level foundations are being laid for an integrated and coordinated mechanism of national response to online child abuse.
According to this new model, education, social protection, technology and internal affairs together take on an essential role in the protection of children in the cyber environment.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs, as a responsible authority, first of all, promotes a set of amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure, in order to provide additional levers to investigate and prosecute offenders, restore the rights of children who suffered from abuses committed online.
Also, an essential condition is the training of police officers, judges and prosecutors, other relevant professionals, according to the specifics of the field, in the spirit of European best practices.
Partnerships with civil society, the Ministry of Education and the ICT industry for informing and educating children about safe behaviors online are also promoted.
Three working groups were set up at the meeting: one focused on the legal and regulatory framework in the field, one on the prevention and education component and one on intervention and assistance mechanisms.