Faith leaders commit to strengthen child protection from online violence

Abu Dhabi, 20 November - On 2018 World Children’s Day, SRSG Santos Pais joined faith leaders gathered in Abu Dhabi at the first Interfaith Alliance for Safer Communities forum on Child Dignity in a Digital World who pledged their commitment to children’s  safety online. 

The meeting gathered senior leaders from all the world’s major religions who explored the risks children may face in cyberspace as well as the actions needed to ensure children’s awareness and protection. 

“Information and communications technologies offer children new and exciting means of enhancing knowledge and skills, experiencing creative research and cultural activities, engaging in play, socialization, and entertainment. ICTs open avenues for children to learn about their rights and about ways of securing their protection. More and more frequently, ICTs are the means children use to become informed and empowered to act – including when they seek advice from a helpline, report incidents of violence or ask for help and assistance” said Santos Pais in her statement at the forum.

How to address the risks of online sexual abuse and exploitation presented by the rapid increase in children’s access to ICTs was the main focus of the forum. Participants heard from governments, leaders of the ICT industry, academics, civil society and United Nations organizations that are working to assess the threats to children in the digital world and develop innovative ways to enhance digital literacy and prevent online risks. 

“Cyberspace is the new playground of our era, and parents and caregivers must be supported in guiding their children in how to use it safely” said Santos Pais, “we must strengthen our alliances with faith-based organizations and religious leaders who share the moral imperative to protect children from harm. Religious and spiritual communities are uniquely placed to use their position and influence to inform and educate families and young people about the opportunities and risks of the digital world, and to mobilize action to prevent”. 

The primary role of families, schools and communities in preventing the sexual abuse and exploitation of children online was given special emphasis by the meeting. In this regard, religious leaders participating in the forum recognized their important role in raising awareness and providing support and practical tools to the members of their congregations who may be unaware of the risks children can face when surfing the Internet.

Participants heard expert panels explore strategies to prevent and respond to harmful information and the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse of children online, and discussed how to strengthen partnerships with religious leaders and faith-based organizations for effective implementation. In her remarks, SRSG Santos Pais stressed that all actions need to be guided by children’s best interests, as well as their views and experience. “Children need to develop their capacities as digital citizens and learn solid values and life skills, including a strong sense of responsibility, respect and concern for others,” SRSG Santos Pais stressed.

She highlighted that children’s protection from online abuse must be part of a broader national agenda on violence against children and that governments have a primary responsibility, including through the enactment of legislation banning all forms of violence against children that also encompasses online abuse and exploitation.

SRSG Santos Pais identified the key steps needed to strengthen the protection of children from online violence, including building the capacity of professionals working with children and provision of services for child victims. “Professionals working with and for children need to have sound knowledge and skills to support and advise children, address the risks they may face online, recognize the early signs of a child’s victimization, and take appropriate steps to support their recovery and reintegration. It is crucial to put in place safe and easily accessible child-sensitive counselling, reporting and complaint mechanisms as a core dimension of the national child protection system, and with appropriate links to child support services and law enforcement. Child victims of online abuse and exploitation must have effective remedies and adequately resourced recovery services staffed by well-trained child protection specialists” she said.

In closing, SRSG Santos Pais urged participants to seize the opportunity of the forum to accelerate action and increase the sense of urgency to address this heinous and growing form of violence against children. Children feel impatient and they have high expectations of us all and we must not fail them.

More information on the Interfaith Alliance for Safer Communities: Child Dignity in a Digital World forum can be found at