Industries in Depth

How can businesses help prevent the sexual exploitation of children online?

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How can we better protect children online? Image: Kaique Rocha/Creative Commons

Elaine Weidman-Grunewald
Senior Vice-President; Chief Sustainability and Public Affairs Officer, Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

The use of telecommunications technology has exploded globally, creating huge opportunities to connect people, enabling business efficiencies and transforming every aspect of our society. Some of those risks include dangers to children and are inherent, so we need to do more to protect children. I believe this issue should come to the forefront of more business agendas, and that solutions will require partnership and in-depth work across industry disciplines. Children’s rights and the prevention of child sexual abuse and exploitation is something that Ericsson and I feel very strongly about.

In the latest Ericsson Mobility Report, which tracks trends and forecasts in the mobile industry, there are a few findings worth noting:

  • Today, the number of mobile subscriptions exceeds the world’s population;
  • Smartphones account for 55% of all mobile subscriptions;
  • By 2022, there will be 8.9 billion mobile subscriptions (6.5 billion subscribers);
  • By the end of 2022, more than 90% of online traffic will come from smartphones;
  • In addition, 75% of all data traffic will be video, compared to 50% today.

In general, people have more access to healthcare, quality education, improved livelihoods. With improved and expanded connectivity at a lower cost, more and more children surf the internet. This can be educational and a mind-opening experience, resulting in greater understanding across cultural boundaries and promoting conflict resolution, for example.

However, the internet is also a place where increased efforts are needed to protect children from potential perpetrators. Instead of limiting children’s use of ICT because of the risks of abuse, we must ensure children’s safety. As a more vulnerable population, children require special efforts to guarantee and ensure respect for their human rights.

A number of efforts have been undertaken, including:

  • The International Telecommunications Union’s Child Online Protection Guidelines are a multistakeholder initiative to promote awareness and develop practical tools for governments, industry and educators regarding child safety in the online world;
  • The Children’s Rights and Business Principles developed by Save the Children, the United Nations Global Compact and UNICEF;
  • The new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as common frameworks allowing us to find the most efficient way to contribute to child protection as articulated in SDG numbers 5 and 16.

SDG 5.2 specifies: “Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation as a guiding tool.”

SDG 16.2s calls for an end to abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence and torture of children. With 2.2 billion children under the age of 18, we have a great challenge.

The bottom line is that this is a difficult topic to discuss, which gets increasingly complex in a digital world. Technology can amplify the impact and scale of this important topic. But it can also amplify the problem for victims. Many industries can directly and indirectly contribute to harm without knowingly doing so, but can also act as positive change agents.

We know that this journey will not be simple or easy and a huge responsibility rests with business leaders around the world. Combining the two most recent Forum themes – the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and responsive and responsible leadership – much more action is needed from the private sector to support the prevention, detection and combatting of child sexual abuse.

Collaboration and partnership will be essential, and we all need to be engaged to help combat sexual exploitation of children. At this year’s Forum we will co-host an event with the UN Foundation on the Unique Role that Business Has to Play in Ending Violence Against Children. Join us there online or watch this video to get involved.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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