In 2014, the UNODC launched a report revealing that the growing accessibility of information and communication technology (ICT) has exacerbated the problem of online sexual exploitation of children. The study disclosed that children in Southeast Asia are particularly exposed to exploitation due to a series of factors such as overall economic and development progress. However, as stated in the report, the globalized and anonymous environment of cyberspace makes it exceedingly more difficult for states to effectively respond to the issue of online sexual exploitation of children. Therefore, any efforts made at a national level must be accompanied by a unified international response.
Chief Judge Stein Schjølberg emphasized the need for a unified international response, stating that online sexual exploitation constitutes serious human rights violations that demands an international legal framework. He explained that measures had been taken at a regional and global level, mentioning the Cospol Internet Related Child Abuse Material Project (CIRCAMP) organized by Norway with the support from Europol and Interpol. Modelled after the EU directive 2011/93 of December 13, 2011 on Combating the Sexual Abuse and Sexual Exploitation of Children, Schjølberg proposed a United Nations treaty combating online child sexual abuse. The proposal included definitions of online child sexual abuse, measures to be taken to ensure effective investigations, preventative measures, and measures to be taken regarding the dissemination of online child sexual abuse.
Detective Inspector Jon Rose from the Taskforce ARGOS at Queensland Police Service, Australia also underlined the need for international cooperation in effectively responding to online child sexual exploitation. Referring to some of the international operations he had been involved in, Rose demonstrated the horrifying magnitude of online child exploitation in the world, with a particular focus on the Southeast Asian region. He explained that the rapidly growing access of ICT services in Asia makes it particularly prone to cybercrime. However, he noted that online child sexual abuse is a borderless issue, stating that wherever there is internet, there will be people exploiting children online.
The keynote speaker at the conference Sonya Ryan, founder of the Carly Ryan Foundation shared her tragic experience with cybercrime. In 2006, her daughter Carly Ryan was murdered by Garry Francis Newman, a man Carly had met online. The man had constructed a fictitious character named Brandon Kane, to seduce Carly who was 15 years old at the time. Following the murder of her daughter, Sonya Ryan created the Carly Ryan foundation with the aim of preventing more children from becoming victims of cybercrime. The foundation provides a range of services, from educating children and parents about how to safely navigate cyberspace, to supporting those who have already become victims of cybercrime. The organization also works closely with authorities to establish a better legal framework to prevent cybercrime. In June 2017 Carly’s Law became federal legislation in Australia. The law makes it a crime for adults to use a carriage service to commit an act in preparation for, or planning to, cause harm to or engage in or procure sexual activity with a minor. The law will enable law enforcement agencies to take action against predators sooner and with greater consequence. At the end of her speech, Sonya Ryan stressed that there must be zero tolerance for crimes against children, and that those committing these crimes must receive the harshest penalty. She added that she hopes every country in the world does their best to protect children by effectively responding to online child sexual exploitation.
The UNODC conference lasts for three days , from 17 – 19 October. It is designed to benefit senior officials, judges, prosecutors and law enforcement working in the counter-child sexual exploitation field from all Southeast Asian countries. The event is intended to raise awareness on the expanding phenomenon of child abuse and its’s manifestation online.