SAN SALVADOR, EL SALVADOR – This week, child protection specialists from Central America, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico are meeting in San Salvador to highlight the need for increased efforts in the fight against online child sexual abuse and exploitation, a growing phenomenon throughout Latin America in recent years.
Today marks the first day of the Regional Congress, Together for a Protected Childhood: Combating Technology-Facilitated Child Sexual Abuse. Topics of focus include how children and adolescents interact with information and communication technologies (ICTs), offender profiles, reporting mechanisms for child sexual abuse and exploitation, and the importance of contemplating ICTs in national policies. The two-day Regional Congress will be followed by a Regional Training for justice sector professionals.
The events are being organized by the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), with the financial support of the United Kingdom’s #WePROTECT Children Online global initiative. The purpose of the events is to share best practices and perspectives in the area of child protection online; review the current regional context; and train key actors responsible for prevention, investigation, prosecution, adjudication, and provision of comprehensive care.
The Regional Congress was opened by representatives of ICMEC, UNODC, and UNICEF, as well as His Excellency Bernhard Garside, Ambassador of the United Kingdom to El Salvador, and Óscar Ortiz, Vice President of El Salvador. During the opening ceremony, child protection experts highlighted the importance of implementing public policies and national and international legal frameworks for prosecuting and sanctioning every form of violence, abuse and exploitation against children and adolescents, including in cyberspace. Also stressed was the importance of multiagency coordination in order to provide a more effective response for children and adolescents when ICT-enabled crimes have been committed.
On Tuesday, participants will discuss bolstering the efforts of the Latin American Coalition Against Technology-Facilitated Child Sexual Abuse, a group that promotes awareness; strengthens prevention initiatives; encourages private sector participation; and provides technical assistance to prosecutors, police officers, and judges. This Coalition also works to provide country-specific recommendations for action, and to fortify – and consolidate – the regional response to the issues.
Online child sexual abuse, exploitation and violence have increased in every country in the region in conjunction with growing access to ICTs. Notwithstanding that the Internet is a fundamental tool for human development, its misuse can be an instrument for threating and violating the rights of children and adolescents. Lack of knowledge about conduct, prevention tools, investigation, and care for victims can lead to perpetrators going unpunished, and children and adolescents not getting the services they need.
The Regional Congress continues through Tuesday, followed by a three-day Regional Training for law enforcement, investigators, prosecutors, and judges on effective prosecution and adjudication of ICT facilitated crimes against children.