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Child sexual abuse

Sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children, including child pornography and child prostitution are particularly cruel crimes and constitute serious violations of fundamental rights. The development of the Internet and the facilitation of international travel have further aggravated these phenomena. Victims of abuse and exploitation must receive special protection and care, while offenders must be held responsible and prosecuted.

A worrying phenomenon

Studies suggest that a significant minority of children in Europe, between 10 % and 20 %, are sexually assaulted during their childhood. This phenomenon is not decreasing and certain forms of sexual violence (like child pornography) are becoming a matter of growing concern. Fighting these crimes is very difficult. Children are vulnerable, and often ashamed and afraid to report any incidents. The Internet makes it easier to “groom” children (solicit children online for sexual purposes) or to produce and distribute child pornography. Children portrayed in pornography are getting younger and the images are becoming more graphic and more violent. Organised crime can make a considerable profit from it with little risk.

Global Alliance for combating sexual abuse of children online

The Global Alliance against Child Sexual Abuse Online aims to unite efforts around the world to more effectively combat online sexual crimes against children. It gathers  54 countries, which committed to pursue concrete actions to enhance victim protection, identify and prosecute offenders, raise awareness, and reduce the availability of child pornography online and the re-victimization of children (read more).

Increasing the level of protection

Following a proposal tabled by the Commission in March 2010 , the Council and the European Parliament adopted on 13 December 2011a new Directive on combating the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, stepping up the fight against child sexual abuse.

The new Directive makes it easier to fight crimes against children by acting on different fronts. It approximates the definition of 20 offences, sets minimum levels for criminal penalties, and facilitates reporting, investigation and prosecution. It extends national jurisdiction to cover abuse by EU nationals abroad, gives child victims easier access to legal remedies and includes measures to prevent additional trauma from participating in criminal proceedings. Offenders will be subject to risk assessments, and have access to special intervention programmes. Information on convictions and disqualifications are to circulate more easily among criminal records, making controls more reliable. The Directive prohibits advertising the possibility of abuse, or organising child sex tourism, and provides for education, awareness raising and training of officials.

A Directive is a legal instrument addressed to the Member States, which in turn have to implement its provisions in their national laws. The deadline for transposition of this directive was December 13, 2013 (More information).

Further actions

The Commission promotes specialist police unit operations that aim at identifying child pornography sites and networks and the children in the images, including prosecuting those responsible. A Europol-based platform for Internet-related offences mainly deals with child abuse content. The Commission also supports the INHOPE network of NGO-run hotlines in EU States that collects reports on child abuse websites so that they could be removed and investigated (Safer Internet Programme).

The Commission has supported the launch of the European Financial Coalition, which brings together Internet providers, banks and payment system suppliers, NGOs, telecom companies, Europol, Eurojust and police and judicial authorities. The aim is to combat the production, distribution and sale of child pornography images on the Internet.

Additional tools

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Related legislation
and documents


Sexual exploitation

Any actual or attempted abuse of a position of vulnerability, power differential or trust for sexual purposes, including, but not limited to, profiting monetarily, socially or politically from the sexual exploitation of another.


Organised crime

Activities of large-scale criminal and terrorist networks, including terrorism, international drugs trafficking, trafficking ...



A person who, according to the law of his/her respective country, is under the age of majority, i.e. is not yet entitled ...


Grooming of children on the Internet

The purpose of grooming is to make a victim. Grooming is done to choose a victim, to see if the person may ...



The act of taking advantage of something or someone, in particular the act of taking unjust advantage of another for...



Every human being below the age of eighteen years, unless majority is attained earlier under the law applicable...