The fight against child sexual abuse is a priority for the EU. The European Parliament and the Council have both called for further concrete action. The EU strategy for a more effective fight against child sexual abuse sets out a comprehensive response to the growing threat of child sexual abuse both offline and online, by improving prevention, investigation, and assistance to victims. It includes eight initiatives for the 2020-2025 period to put in place a strong legal framework, strengthen the law enforcement response, and facilitate a coordinated approach across the many actors involved in protecting and supporting children.
The strategy will ensure that existing EU legislation is fully implemented, particularly Directive 2011/93 on combating sexual abuse and exploitation of children. The Commission will address possible gaps in the current legislation, starting with a study to identify the remaining issues, as well as best practices and priority measures to tackle them. The Commission will propose new legislation where needed, particularly to clarify the role that online service providers can play to protect children.
As part of the initiatives in the strategy, in September 2020, the Commission proposed an interim Regulation to ensure that providers of online communications services, like webmail or messaging services, can continue their voluntary practices to detect and report child sexual abuse online and remove child sexual abuse material. The proposal is necessary because as of 21 December 2020 these providers fall within the scope of the e-Privacy Directive, which does not contain an explicit legal basis for such voluntary activities.
In 2021 the Commission will propose the necessary legislation to tackle child sexual abuse online effectively including by requiring relevant online services providers to detect known child sexual abuse material and require them to report that material to public authorities.
The strategy will support national police forces to keep up with technological developments. The strategy also sets out initiatives to boost coordination, including a prevention network for practitioners and researchers, examining the possibility to create a European Centre to prevent and counter child sexual abuse, cooperating with industry through the EU Internet Forum and supporting the WePROTECT Global Alliance to End Child Sexual Exploitation Online.
What else is the Commission doing to fight against child sexual abuse?
The Commission has been using all tools at its disposal:
Legislation - by ensuring that Member States fully implement EU law on combating sexual abuse and exploitation of children (Directive 2011/93). In 2019, the Commission was compelled to open infringements procedures against 23 Member States for non-compliance. They followed the publication of two reports (see here and here) in 2016 that showed that the Directive had not yet reached its full potential through complete implementation by Member States.
Coordination – by facilitating and encouraging cooperation between public and private actors. This is key to fighting these crimes effectively. The Commission works closely with the EU’s agencies for law enforcement and judicial cooperation, Europol and Eurojust, as well as with the INHOPE network of hotlines, where users can report child sexual abuse materials they encounter online. The Commission supports global coordination through the WePROTECT Global Alliance to End Child Sexual Exploitation Online, a multi-stakeholder organisation bringing together 97 governments, 32 global technology companies, 33 civil society organisations and international institutions, 5 regional organisations. In addition, the fight against child sexual abuse material has become part of the work of the EU Internet Forum, which gathers EU Home Affairs Ministers, the internet industry and other stakeholders to collaborate together voluntarily to combat the child sexual abuse threat. Europol, also coordinates operational action in the fight against child sexual abuse, together with Eurojust. The Commission also promotes child safety online more generally through its Better Internet for Kids initiative.
Funding – by providing funding for projects fighting child sexual abuse. In addition to the INHOPE network, the Commission has funded the International Child Sexual Exploitation (ICSE) database at Interpol, which enables the identification of victims globally. The Commission has also funded training for practitioners, research and development new forensic approaches, and systems for operational priority setting, to cite but a few examples. The Commission organises regular calls for proposals under both Internal Security Fund and Horizon 2020.