Home UK News Britain declared ‘online child exploitation hotspot’ of Europe

Britain declared ‘online child exploitation hotspot’ of Europe

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The number of cases of online child abuse reported to police in the United Kingdom has tripled in a year, according to data.

Last year, the UK police received a record 316,900 online allegations of child abuse to investigate, a 225% increase from the previous record of 97,727 the year before.

This means that the United Kingdom recorded the highest number of child abuse reports in Europe, surpassing Turkey (276,331), Poland (235,310), France (226,465), Germany (138,193), and Hungary (109,434).

The majority of reports concerned the social media titans Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, which are owned by Meta. The companies disclose any instances of child abuse to the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in the United States. It then forwards the reports to the relevant country’s law enforcement agencies.

Experts attributed the steep rise to more thorough detection and reporting of child abuse by technology companies, particularly Google, which reported 2,2 million cases of child abuse, an increase of 148%.

However, it also reflected a genuine increase in online child abuse, which was exacerbated by the Covid pandemic, during which millions of children spent extended periods of time online, often behind closed doors, without their parents’ knowledge that they could be becoming victims of grooming.

They believed that the disproportionate number of reports in the United Kingdom could be attributed to the increase in the number of minors with smartphones and internet access. By the age of 11, nine out of ten British children had their own mobile phone, according to the online regulator Ofcom.

‘Particularly worrying’

Andy Burrows, former head of child safety online policy at the NSPCC, who analysed the data, stated that the “particularly concerning” increase in reports demonstrates the need for the government to strengthen and swiftly implement its online safety legislation.

“These results highlight the importance of passing robust legislative and regulatory frameworks in the UK and EU to protect children, reversing a status quo in which the social and economic costs of online CSA continue to rise,” he said.

“In the United Kingdom alone, the UK Government assesses the annual economic cost of online CSA to be at least £2 billion – a product externality for businesses, but a catastrophic toll for children and families left to cope with the aftermath of preventable abuse.

“Additionally, this is an increasingly insurmountable challenge for law enforcement agencies, which cannot realistically be expected to keep track of child abuse, especially as it expands at such a rapid rate.”

According to NCMEC data, some of the largest technology companies fail to detect or report online child abuse, with Twitter filing only 98,050 reports despite being identified as a prominent source of child sexual abuse content. Apple only reported 234 instances of online abuse.

Miriam Cates and Bill Cash, two senior Tory MPs, have written to Chloe Smith, the science secretary, urging her to close a loophole that allows social media bosses to avoid criminal prosecution if child sexual abuse and illegal content promoting suicide are permitted to remain on their platforms.

As a result of a flaw in the online safety measure, executives of technology companies will not face prison time if they repeatedly fail to remove unlawful child abuse, suicide, and self-harm content.

Instead, the regulator Ofcom will only be able to levy sanctions of up to 10% of global revenues, which critics say is insufficient for billion-pound tech companies.

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