18 November is marked as the European Day on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse. A number of issues are raised on this day. They are related to severe violations of child’s rights, his/her health, honor and dignity.
Ukraine is not an exception. These issues are not often discussed in public discourse, and they appear usually only during changes in legislation, expert interviews or presentation of researches. Hoverever the problem of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children requires better public attention and discussion as despite «low statistics» the real situation is not limited only to detected cases of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation.
For instance, according to the IOM Ukraine Counter-Trafficking Programme at a Glance ,out of 690 children, who became victims of human trafficking and received assistance from the IOM during 2000-2019, 48% or 331 children suffered from sexual exploitation. At the same time, the IOM indicated that this statistics is the “tip of iceberg” as children have limited capabilities to protect themselves and report about a crime committed against them. This is confirmed in a publication by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Ukraine «Sexual Abuse against a Child: Coordination of Actions». It reads that children do not tell about abuse against them due to a number of reasons. They include the lack of life experience and understanding that abuse is not a norm; lack of power and opportunities to counter the abuse, etc. That is why many cases of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children are not in the spotlight of social services and criminal justice.
Another problem is involving children in pornography that also is a form of sexual exploitation. According to information from Internet Watch Foundation NGO ,Ukraine was ranked tenth in 2020 regarding the number of images depicting sexual abuse of children which the above-mentioned organization tried to delete. Ukraine was ranked ninth in 2019. According to prosecutor general Iryna Venediktova, as of 2021, Ukraine is in the “top three” countries concerning the distribution of child pornography in the world. In addition, police exposed approximately 300 cases of distributing child pornography in Ukraine during 2020-2021. It goes without saying that this negative tendency is alarming. It can be explained both due to the increasing threat of sexual abuse and sexual violence of children on the Internet and the fact that children often remain silent concerning such cases without asking for help.
For instance, according to the analytical report based on quantitative study on the topic of «Child Sexual Abuse and Child Sexual Exploitation on the Internet», 25% of children (the sample comprised 4700 respondents) aged 6-17 got at least once in the situation of sexual exploitation or sexual abuse. However, 44,8% of those children who became victims of similar situations did not tell anybody about this. But those who said about such negative experience did this usually when speaking with their friends but not with adults – parents, teachers, a school psychologist. In addition, only 27% of children who face at least one situation of sexual abuse or exploitation are ready to tell adults what has happened to them. Perhaps it is the biggest problem that requires solution and significant improvement as it is impossible to bring a violator to justice if a fact of sexual abuse or sexual exploitation of children is not identified. Responsibility for these crimes became stricter in 2020 based on a law on the implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (the Lanzarote Convention). However, if there are changes for the better in Ukrainian legislation that was confirmed in the Council of Europe project report «Combating violence against children in Ukraine» , the real situation regarding sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children, especially on the Internet, has many problematic issues. They include low level of trust among children to adults. This prevents significant increase in identification of cases concerning sexual abuse or exploitation. Other problematic issue is the deterioration of situation with child pornography in Ukraine in spite of making responsibility for this unlawful activity stricter.
So the issue of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation should be raised in public realm more often as there are numerous issues to deal with. One of them is sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children in the internet environment. Both parents and teachers should tell children about the existence of sexual content on the Internet as well as about how children can avoid negative experience in cyberspace. This is the only way to really improve the situation and counter sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children.Let us recall that team iDemocracy has previously written about who is responsible for children’s cyber security on the Internet.