Tech and financial companies can build platforms and products safe by design to prevent child sexual abuse online, International Justice Mission’s (IJM) John Tanagho said.
Child protection NGOs and law enforcement are working hard to protect children online but video-chat platforms and all money transfer companies have a unique role to prevent, detect and report harm at the earliest stage, said Tanagho, Execution Director of IJM’s Center to End Online Sexual Exploitation of Children.
Speaking at the Singapore FinTech Festival on November 2 and 3, Tanagho, whose experience in the field dates back before the emergence of online child abuse, laid out a three-point action plan for online payment and tech companies to minimise opportunities for offenders to misuse their platforms to abuse children.
“Livestreamed child sexual abuse didn’t exist before the digital age, and it flourishes in the shadows--undetected, unreported, unmitigated,” Tanagho said to a crowd during his main stage speech at the 7th edition of the world’s largest Fintech festival.
The crime, in which mostly Western offenders pay to watch or direct sexual abuse of trafficked children, flourishes where law enforcement is lax or under-resourced. The crime increased to during the Covid pandemic.
Platforms that inadvertently facilitate online child abuse can use data, expert consultation and indicators to make them “safe by design,” Tanagho said.
Secondly, money transfer companies can engage in robust financial transaction monitoring and treat child exploitation payments like terrorist financing or fraud, not anti-money laundering, reducing reporting time from 50-100 days to five.
“Report the maximum amount of information, not the minimum required … and provide meaningful suspicious transaction reports that law enforcement can use,” Tanagho urged.
Tanagho rounded out the three-point plan by appealing for electronic service providers and online payment firms to join those that partner with IJM, which has partnered with Philippine law enforce in the rescue of more than 1,000 victims, the arrest of more than 300 suspects and conviction of more than 150 traffickers.
“You’ll help protect children from harm, hold offenders accountable, give survivors what they need to heal, thrive and lead,” he said.
The Philippines is a global hotspot for livestreamed child abuse. IJM helped to establish the Philippines Internet Crimes Against Children Center (PICACC), which partners local law enforcement with federal police from Australia and the UK (United Kingdom), two of the main demand countries.
Despite hundreds of arrests of traffickers in the Philippines, remote sex offenders in their home countries remain out of reach of PICACC.
“They do not think they will get caught. They do not think the platform they are using will detect them, and they do not think law enforcement will either,” Tanagho said.
“Please join the fight. We have specific opportunities for FinTech to be part of the solution to child sexual abuse online right now.”
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IJM’s Program Against Online Sexual Exploitation of Children
International Justice Mission is a global organization that protects people in poverty from violence. IJM partners with local authorities in 29 program offices in 17 countries to combat slavery, violence against women and children, and police abuse of power against people who are poor. IJM works with local authorities and governments to rescue and restore survivors, hold perpetrators accountable, and help strengthen public justice systems so they can better protect people from violence.
Our 21 years of work in the Philippines led to a dramatic decrease in the prevalence of sex trafficking of children in bars and brothels—reductions ranging from 72%-86% in the cities where we partnered with local authorities. In 2016, IJM fully transitioned our program in the Philippines to combat online sexual exploitation of children, in particular the trafficking of children to create new child sexual abuse materials, including via livestreaming. We have assisted Philippine authorities in more than 272 operations, leading to the rescue of 1008 victims and arrest of 313 suspects of online sexual exploitation of children (first case dates back to 2011).
IJM’s Center to End Online Sexual Exploitation of Children partners with governments, industry, non-government organizations, and other stakeholders to protect children from online sexual exploitation around the world. Leveraging effective practices from IJM’s Philippine program, the Center supports effective justice system responses in source and demand-side countries; and improves technology and financial sector detection and reporting of livestreamed child sexual exploitation, all resulting in sustainable protection for children and accountability for perpetrators.
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