Child sexual exploitation and abuse is global health emergency, warns news institute

New Edinburgh-based institute, Childlight warns child sexual exploitation and abuse (CSEA) is a global health emergency that we don’t yet know the true scale of

In response to the alarming increase of CSEA being reported globally, a new data institute based in the University of Edinburgh has been established; Childlight. Childlight aims to create the first comprehensive global data repository looking at all forms of CSEA, not only online, and begin to show for the first time the scale and nature of this abuse.

Recent data from just one source, US-based National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) shows an alarming increase in the number of times child sexual abuse material (CSAM) is being detected and shared online. NCMEC provides the centralised reporting system for electronic service providers such as Google and Meta to refer suspected CSAM and has recorded an increase in such referrals over recent years; from 59,000 per day in 2020 to 80,000 a day by the end of 2022.

Childlight’s Executive Director, Paul Stanfield, said “This is a global health emergency affecting children all over the world. Sadly, we suspect the true scale of this pandemic is much greater than current numbers suggest and encompasses so many different forms of abuse and exploitation that extend beyond online.

This problem isn’t solved by law enforcement alone.  To combat CSEA, we must first understand the prevalence and nature of this type of abuse. With the data we can work with partners from all sectors to ensure urgent action is taken to prevent children from further harm, because children can’t wait!”

With the data, Childlight’s team will produce an annual report, global dashboard and index that can be used by multiple sectors including government, technology, law enforcement, NGOs and child protection.

Professor Deborah Fry, Childlight’s Director of Data and Chair of International Child Protection Research at the University of Edinburgh added, “Each sector holds a piece of the data puzzle. Bringing together the whole data picture is essential for tackling CSEA. We know that current numbers are likely to be significantly underestimated and hope that our dashboard and index will provide an invaluable tool for governments and organisations all over the world to stop this abuse because every child matters.” 

Founded by the Human Dignity Foundation and based in the University of Edinburgh, Childlight has built a multidisciplinary, international team of experienced individuals from a variety of backgrounds that span academia, the private sector, law enforcement and NGO’s. Through Childlight’s Global Data Fellows programme, researchers from all over the world can contribute to this essential data and analysis.

Professor Sir Peter Mathieson, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh, said of this new institute: “These stark figures underline the urgent need for a coordinated effort to identify, take action and help protect the welfare of children across the world. The ambition and scope of Childlight is immense, and by bringing together University of Edinburgh academic expertise with an international team of specialists, this vital institute will provide a significant contribution in the fight against child exploitation.”

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