ASEAN promotes inclusive cooperation to protect children from online abuse

ASEAN is making efforts and joining hands to solve the problem of online child abuse in the context that 1-20% of children using the internet (in 6 ASEAN countries) report having been sexually exploited and abused online.
The second ASEAN information technology Forum on child online protection in Bangkok, Thailand. (Photo: NA)

The second ASEAN information technology Forum on child online protection just took place (November 23-24) in Bangkok, Thailand. The event is organized by the Ministry of Economy and Digital Society, the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security of the Kingdom of Thailand and the ASEAN Committee for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC). The forum also received coordination from the ASEAN Secretariat and the United Nations (UN) Children's Fund. The Vietnamese interdisciplinary delegation attends the Forum.

To promote coordinated and meaningful action in efforts to prevent and combat all forms of child exploitation and abuse online, within and outside the ASEAN region, the Forum attracted more than 260 delegates, from 10 ASEAN member countries and 3 guest countries including China, Mongolia and Papua New Guinea.

Realizing the high-level statement

According to statistics, the Asia region has the highest rate of children using the internet globally, and in 2022, about 73% of adolescents aged 15-24 in Asia-Pacific regularly connect online. Along with many benefits for children, online risks also exist, including the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse.

In 6 ASEAN member countries, ranging from 1-20% of children using the internet said that they had been sexually exploited and abused online. In Vietnam, the Harm Prevention study, jointly conducted by UNICEF, Interpol and ECPAT and published in 2022, shows that for the 15-17 years old group, 2% have received money or gifts for sharing photos, your sensitive video with others.

Faced with that alarming situation, at the 35th ASEAN Summit in November 2019, the Association's leaders adopted the Declaration on Protecting Children from all forms of online exploitation and abuse. To realize this Declaration, ASEAN member states have developed and approved the ASEAN Regional Action Plan on protecting children from all forms of online exploitation and abuse in October 2021.

This plan includes 7 focus areas including: Strengthening and perfecting the legal and policy framework; strengthen law enforcement capacity; establish specialized units; providing comprehensive child protection and support services; data collection and research; developing educational programs for students, parents and teachers; and promoting the role and responsibilities of IT businesses – all to better protect children against risks and dangers in cyberspace.

In particular, the 7th priority of the Plan emphasizes the important role of cooperation with information technology (IT) businesses in preventing and responding to online harms, calling for Businesses, governments and stakeholders to meet annually to identify and discuss solutions.

This Forum is one of the important activities for the 7th priority to implement the above Plan.

The Forum aims to provide a positive opportunity for discussion and collaboration between the region's IT businesses, governments and other key stakeholders to ensure children are safe online.

Vietnamese delegations joins the Forum. (Photo: NA)

Guidance on improving the national legal framework

At this Forum, ASEAN announced Guidelines for completing a harmonized and comprehensive national legal framework to prevent and respond to all forms of online child sexual exploitation and abuse, ensuring the principles of evidence-based principles; legal reform must be "anticipatory": the language in the law needs to be open and comprehensive enough to ensure it can cover emerging issues that may arise in the years after the law is enacted; creating links with other legal improvement activities related to gender-based violence.

This guide also introduces a tiered/categorized approach to legislation that prevents and responds to all forms of online child sexual exploitation and abuse to consider the various stages of legislation currently in ASEAN member states:

Level 1: Comprehensive substantive provisions in criminal law and criminal procedure on all forms of online child sexual exploitation and abuse are key to ensuring that victims of all forms of children exploitation and online sexual abuse are fully protected when they participate in the criminal justice process.

Level 2: Relevant criminal procedure provisions to protect victims and allow victims to seek compensation through civil law; obligations for IT businesses providing digital products, platforms and services.

Level 3: Regulations related to the financial sector and other related fields.

In addition, at this Forum, ASEAN also announced the ASEAN Guidelines on the provision of protection and support services to all child victims and children coming into contact with the law as a result online child exploitation and sexual abuse.

The Guide introduces the principles of multidisciplinary and integrated service delivery; providing rights-based, gender-sensitive, age-appropriate and inclusive services; victim-centered approach; non-discrimination; 'do no harm'.

In addition, the Guide introduces a minimum basic service package including: Case management; human resources providing social services; family-based care; providing mental health support and psychosocial support; health and medicine; justice and law enforcement; remove child sexual abuse material; compensation; education and vocational training; social protection.

For those who commit crimes related to online sexual child exploitation and abuse, it is necessary to apply an approach based on children's rights and towards reintegration and rehabilitation.

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