At least 300 million children face online sexual exploitation, abuse per year

One in eight of the world’s children fell victim to non-consensual taking, sharing and exposure to sexual images and videos over the past year.

01 Jun 2024 12:00pm
Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

KUALA LUMPUR - At least 300 million children become victims of online sexual exploitation and abuse annually, according to researchers from the University of Edinburgh, as quoted by international media.

The first global estimate of the scale of this crisis, published today, found that one in eight (equivalent to 12.6 per cent) of the world’s children fell victim to non-consensual taking, sharing and exposure to sexual images and videos over the past year.

This amounts to approximately 302 million young people.

Additionally, 12.5 per cent of children globally (300 million) are estimated to have been subjected to online solicitation, such as unwanted sexual talk, which can include non-consensual sexting, unwanted sexual questions and unwanted sexual act requests by adults or other youths, in the past year.

These offences can also take the form of 'sextortion', where predators demand money from victims to keep images private, and the abuse of artificial intelligence (AI) to create deepfake materials.

While these problems exist worldwide, the research suggested that the United States is a particularly high-risk nation, with one out of nine men in the US (nearly 14 million) admitting to online offending against children at some point.

The University of Edinburgh’s Childlight initiative, which aims to understand the prevalence of child abuse through a new global index, "Into The Light," also found that seven per cent of British men (1.8 million), as well as 7.5 per cent of men in Australia, admitted to the same offences.

Childlight chief executive Paul Stanfield emphasised the widespread nature of child abuse material, stating, "Child abuse material is so prevalent that files are on average reported to watchdog and policing organisations once every second."

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"This is a global health pandemic that has remained hidden for far too long. It occurs in every country and is growing exponentially, which requires a global response. We need to act urgently and treat it as a public health issue that can be prevented. Children can't wait," he added.

The report follows a warning from United Kingdom police regarding criminal gangs in West Africa and Southeast Asia targeting British teenagers in sextortion scams online last month.

Britain's National Crime Agency (NCA) also issued an alert to hundreds of thousands of teachers, urging them to be aware of the threats their pupils might face.

Scammers often pose as other young people to make contact on social media before moving to encrypted messaging apps and encouraging the victims to share intimate images.

They typically make their blackmail demands within an hour of making contact and are primarily motivated by extorting as much money as possible rather than seeking sexual gratification, according to the NCA. - BERNAMA