THE increase in online pornography is to blame for the “general loss of human dignity” in the modern world, which is driving child exploitation and human trafficking, the Pope has told world leaders in faith and technology.
He was speaking at an event, “Promoting Digital Child Dignity: From Concept to Action”, held at the Vatican this month. It was organised by the charity Child Dignity Alliance, and was attended by more than 80 delegates, including Baroness Shields, who is the group chief executive of BenevolentAI.
Pope Francis said in his opening speech: “The spread of images of abuse or the exploitation of minors is increasing exponentially, involving ever more serious and violent forms of abuse and ever younger children. We must ban from the face of the earth violence and every form of abuse against children.”
A spokesman for the Child Dignity Alliance, Ernie Allen, told the summit: “Often, we hear that the crisis of online child sexual exploitation is a result of ‘unintended consequences’ — the misuse of technologies that are otherwise good for humanity. We must begin to anticipate such consequences and fix them in advance, not just react to them after the fact.”
The UN Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, said: “There is no doubt that the sale and sexual exploitation of children are among the worst affronts to a child’s dignity.”
Despite seeing significant progress in her work regarding child dignity, “30 years after the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and over 100 years after the Universal Declaration, respect of the child’s dignity and children’s rights continue to come as an afterthought instead of being embedded in all our actions and decisions.”
The chief executive of the NGO Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children, Julie Cordua, during a presentation on the company’s technology, a tool designed to prevent abuse online, said: “Online child sexual abuse is an invisible global emergency. Perpetrators benefit from unfettered access to advanced technology, while law enforcement often do not have access to advanced technologies for investigative purposes, and companies operate in siloes to eliminate content.”
In the final session, the European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, Mariya Gabriel, said that online safety had been a priority for Europe. Investing in and promoting education was key, especially teachers, who spend a significant amount of time with children, she said.
“We need to promote more preparation for them, more online courses, in order to provide them materials that they can work with their pupils.”