Improved measures needed to address the online exploitation of children

A recent report released by Europol has suggested that crimes around the sexual exploitation and coercion of children online have increased.

This is not the first time I have raised such an issue. Children are spending significant amounts of time online, and due to the increased use of smart phone, parents are often not aware of the sites their children are visiting, let alone the people they may be in contact with.

“The Europol report recommends a multi-disciplinary and comprehensive approach to reduce the number online sexual exploitation cases, highlighting education as an essential element. Educating Ireland’s youth of the dangers that the internet can pose is critical to changing the current trends.

Increased online safety education in schools will not only educate children, but it will also nurture the creation of a national conversation of the online exploitation of children – a crime that is happening in Ireland and a crime that needs to be recognised and understood by the wider population.

As a relatively new crime, Europol also noted the limited research that has been conducted regarding the online sexual exploitation and coercion of children.

As a country that houses the headquarters of companies such as Facebook and Google, Ireland should ensure that it works in collaboration with other states to carry out meaningful research in order to devise solutions and preventative strategies.

Therefore, on the foot of the findings of Europol’s recent report, I call on the Government to improve online safety education in schools, in addition to collaborating effectively with other states to reduce the number of online sexual exploitation and coercion cases of children.

From September 2017 all schools must provide a new programme called Wellbeing as part of their junior Cycle curriculum where students will be learning to make responsible choices and decisions in a connected world while being aware of their impact on others. Many excellent supports have already been developed and are available from webwise.ie and these can be incorporated into a school’s Wellbeing programme.

In addition all students will experience the eight key skills of Junior Cycle, all of which acknowledge the responsible use of technology and especially the key skill of “Staying Well”, which promotes being safe and ethical in the use of digital technology.

At primary level, students are currently educated about online safety explicitly through the curriculum in Social, Personal and Health Education.

 

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