(The spoken version shall take precedence)
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is a true pleasure to join this digital conversation about a topic that is close to my heart. Online meetings are still fairly new to me, but I am quickly getting adjusted to new ways of handling life – as we all are in these unusual times.
Covid-19 has changed the way we live. It has forced many of us to make difficult sacrifices in our personal lives. But it has also given us an opportunity to reflect and focus on what is genuinely important for us. It gives me hope to see that in the past months, the safety of children has been highlighted more often than usual in the public debate. The covid-19 response has accentuated the social importance of school and extracurricular activities and the importance of having trusted caring adults around our children.
The current crisis has also intensified and accentuated the value- as well as the risks, with the online world.
We all know that digital solutions have made it possible for us to keep in contact with friends and family despite social distancing, to continue study despite school closures and to spread messages about how to keep children safe … However, we also hear worrying reports about more intense activity on darknet communities for abusers, an increase in grooming attempts and a sharp rise in calls to child helplines. This makes me deeply concerned.
I am truly worried about the long-term effects of this crisis- especially for the children who were already at increased risks. And we know that children most at risk off-line are usually the ones that are most at risk also online.
We must also remember, when we speak about online child sexual abuse, that even though the crime is committed online, the perpetrator is not digital - and neither is the victim. These children are real, and the crimes committed against them may stay on the internet forever.
I welcome the joint statements and recommendations made by many of you present in this meeting. The Broadband Commission COVID Agenda for Action, the joint technical note on COVID-19 and its implications for protecting children online as well as the joint call for action to protect children during covid-19 by several global leaders manifest a global joint effort to protect children online.
They all provide valuable guidelines for governments, organizations and private companies, especially technology companies and internet service providers.
I do want to stress that the heightened risks of online harm for children put a particular responsibility on tech-companies and service providers. This is not the time to lessen the priority on children’s safety. On the contrary, this is the time to do everything in our power to keep children safe online.
The virus knows no borders. And online perpetrators respect no borders. Therefore, we need to work together across borders.
Making sure that the recommendations that have been developed are turned into concrete action, is one very good way to start.
Whether we are AI experts, policy makers or just parents; in these difficult times it is more important than ever that we all contribute with whatever we do best – and, most importantly – that we do it now.