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Safe access to the Internet is beneficial to children’s development. Unfortunately, the internet has its darker sides. Child helplines play a pivotal role in identifying and reporting child (online) sexual exploitation and abuses. Children and young people can seek advice, counselling, and referral needed in these difficult circumstances.
Under the CHI LEAP Initiative, CHI (Child Helpline International) is committed to identifying its capacity building needs for child helplines in 17 target countries selected by UNICEF, and to determine their needs to strengthen their response to reports of online child sexual abuse and exploitation. The session discussed the results achieved so far by this initiative, and the role of child helplines in supporting children in their digital world. Some CHI members participated remotely and shared their various experiences. We also heard from the National Runaway Safeline in Chicago, and from the Crisis Text Line in New York.
The moderator, Shella Donovan from CHI, highlighted their motto, ‘Every child has a voice’. She highlighted that CHI carries out advocacy worldwide, capacity building, and a number of publications in order to bring the importance of protecting children online to as many people as possible. Ms Donovan talked on how CHI has forged partnerships with many telecommunications giants (GSMA, Facebook, Youtube). She said CHI is engaging as many countries as possible in a bid to look for best practices and thus, adopt them.
John Carr (LEAP Programme UK), expressed how CHI is in partnership with many multinationals who manufacture children or young peoples’ food, clothing, tech gadgets and other products. He praised the close working atmosphere that exists between UNICEF and WePROTECT. Mr Carr insisted that every country should have at least one helpline council – to permit young people and children from benefiting from its services.
Another speaker, Clara Sommarin, Child protection specialist, UNICEF, recalled when former British Prime Minister David Cameron hosted the WePROTECT Summit in 2014. At this summit, governments and private sector partners signed a WePROTECT response to online child sexual abuse and exploitation. She talked about how the UK pledged £50 million in order to get this project going, as this was the first work of its kind to protect children online. Therefore, the main pillar of this project is to identify and eventually rescue child victims, making sure that there are reporting systems in place, as online child exploitation is a relatively new issue.
The session finished with a note of complete optimism as CHI pledged its will to continue its efforts.
by Antony Namaga, Internet Society Cameroon