HM The Queen's speech at Samena Council Leaders' Summit

(The spoken version shall take precedence)

Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a great pleasure to have the opportunity to address you, leaders of the telecommunications industry, policy makers and regulators.

You are the conductors and shapers of our digital world. I have learned that you create, manage and deliver online content to over 35% of the world’s population of children!

I think you will agree that this is a big responsibility.

All of us have experienced how connectivity transforms our lives for the better. It is fuelling the achievement of most if not all of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Today, it allows me to join you from Solliden in Sweden where our family spends every summer.

But this summer is different. The COVID pandemic is raging across our planet. In my country, as in yours, it is killing thousands, especially the elderly. Connectivity is this pandemic’s hero behind the scenes: It provides access to health care, online education, crucial commodities. It allows scientists all over the world to work together in the fight against the virus. It is helping our struggling economies while it is also allowing us to safely socialize.

As grandparents, the King and I continue distancing and sheltering in place but technology has enabled us to stay in touch with our children and grandchildren using Zoom, WhatsApp, FaceTime or other platforms. For our generation, this is a new and wonderful world.

But what about our children? For many children, especially in developed countries, digital is the only world they have ever known. Even prior to the pandemic, they moved seamlessly between the physical and digital world. And for so many, the digital world has been wondrous, offering to hundreds of millions of children access to education, entertainment, gaming and socializing. All of us want every child to have access to these benefits in a safe way. However, early on I learned that this world also has a dark side, and like any technology, digital platforms can be misused for criminal and immoral purposes.

It has been well over 20 years since I first decided to use my voice and position to break the silence and speak about the unspeakable. I founded the World Childhood Foundation to address the global challenge of child sexual abuse and exploitation. Already then, the Internet was used to exploit children and we invested in new technology to detect child sexual abuse material on corporate computers. I hope you all know of it. It is called NetClean.

But NetClean or other technology alone cannot protect the vulnerable. A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of launching the new 2020 ITU Child Online Protection guidelines, an important milestone in our international efforts to end violence against children. I was happy to see how several UN agencies, and many global NGOs including my Foundation, Childhood, joined forces to produce these guidelines. Let’s put these resources to work in every country, in every region … and by every government and company.

Ladies and gentlemen, it isn’t easy for a Queen to speak about sexually abused children. Whenever I address foreign parliaments, royal courts, the United Nations, or other audiences, I see people looking down or turning their heads. Nobody wants to hear about the horrific crimes that are being perpetrated against children every hour of every day. And yet I must continue because in the last two decades, despite the progress that I feel our foundation has made, there has only been an increasing tsunami of child sexual abuse material flooding the Internet.

And now we come to 2020 and on top of that tsunami, our planet is suffering a global earthquake called COVID-19.

Please know that contrary to what everybody believes, the COVID pandemic is actually incredibly dangerous to children. The virus itself may not kill them. But not being able to go to school, sheltering in place with people who abuse or neglect them and spending more time online where predators pretend to befriend them … all this has significantly increased the levels of abuse and exploitation of children both at home and online.

This is why I urgently need your help.

You, the key stakeholders – policy makers and your companies – the world’s children need you to come together with civil society to prioritize child online safety. Children need to know that you will protect them, and not the abusers.

Ladies and gentlemen, these children are not just statistics, these are real children being abused by real adults, in a real world.

Every minute we wait, thousands more children will suffer. Nelson Mandela said: “History will judge us by the difference we make in everyday lives of children.”

Thank you.