Child Law International Alliance (CLIA) and Beijing Children’s Legal Aid and Research Center (BCLARC) has co-hosted its very first webinar series for “International Child Protection Focal Points” on the emerging issues of child grooming for sexual purposes with eight experts from six different countries on 28th July 2020. During the webinar the moderators presented their studies, professional experiences and policy recommendations to 80 participants from 23 countries and sparked consultations on strategies and responses for addressing online grooming.
Through his opening speech, Mr Lihua Tong, President of CLIA and Director of BCLARC, highlighted important on transnational response for child grooming especially during the pandemic situation and role of legal professionals advocating for combating against child grooming in national and international arena. Key highlights of the webinar are presented as follows.
Shuaishuai Niu, Researcher at Beijing Children’s Legal Aid and Research Center,
- Of the 69 selected cases, 22 involved three or more victims. Instant communication tools, such as QQ, WeChat and SMS, are widely used, accounting for 50% of grooming cases.
- Victimology study reveals that, many victims of grooming are younger children. Of the 69 cases studied, a total of 41 cases were committed against children under 14 years old (below the age of sexual consent), constituting 60% of all the cases.
- Girls are more vulnerable to sexual violence, boys can also be groomed and sexually abused by the perpetrators. Of the 69 cases counted, 56 cases targeted female victims, with at least 204 victims, and the other 10 cases were committed against male victims, involving 58 victims. In these ten cases, the perpetrators were all male.
- Grooming is usually the first step of other more serious sex crimes. There are 38 cases studied resulted in indecent assaults against children, 17 cases lead to offline rape, 12 cases resulted in rape and indecent assault. Other cases also lead to multiple crimes, like forced prostitution, kidnapping or blackmailing. In some cases, the perpetrator force or treat the children into sending self-made sexual abuse images or videos. These child sexual abuse materials were later used against the victim to gain sexual or financial interests.
- Grooming is not criminalized in Chinese legal framework, thus the above cases were charged of other sex crimes, such as rape, child molestation or forced molestation, dissemination of obscene materials, and forced prostitution.
- Grooming starts online, but this doesn’t mean that the perpetrators will not be in physical contact with the children. Once grooming goes offline, the children are in great danger of being sexually abused and fall victim to serious sex crimes.
- Currently, grooming is quite a new concept in China, and only a few people know about the phenomenon. The BCLARC is trying to carry out research and raise public awareness, and has been receiving international assistance in terminology translations and comparative study of the law in different countries.
Khemachart Prakyhongmanee, Deputy Director of the Department of Special Investigation of Thailand
- Legislative changes bring positive impacts to the solving of child abuse cases. At first, the police could only start the case by interviewing the victim. However, at many times, the victims were not ready for or capable of such interview. Sometimes it could take 2-3 years for the investigation to start.
- In 2015, the child pornography law was enacted in Thailand which allows the police to start the investigation from the child abuse materials, but not the victim, enabling the police to use technology to conveniently track the download record and locate the crime scene.
- In Thailand, the majority of offenders are from Europe, the majority of the victims are male, so are the offenders. Typically, it is the case that old males are looking for young boys for sexual purposes.
- Black Wrist Operation, jointly implemented with a ustralian police and US Homeland Security Investigation, demonstrates the significance of international cooperation. Nevertheless, the also met with challenges. The Black Wrist Operation: the importance of multi-disciplinary coordination (NGOs and lawyers can serve supplementary roles assisting law enforcement agencies), the success of international cooperation (supported and cooperated with Interpol, Australian police and US Homeland Security Investigation to facilitate information sharing and victim identification); adoption of a victim-centered approach that prioritizes victim assistance; initiating co-plaintiff prosecution to punish the offenders.
Georgi Apostolov, Coordinator of the Bulgarian Safer Internet Centre (SIC)
- Sexting a new form of flirting between teenagers, and sometimes happens between a young person aged 20+ and a child under 18 years old. In some cases, sexting goes to the revenge part. One may post an intimate video or image just to take revenge on the partner who broke the relations. The problem is how do we distinguish this kind of consensual sexual abuse. And how do we differentiate between child sexual abuse materials produced by sextexting, and those produced and released by children under no pressure.
- The next problem is the legislation and its practical effect on sexual abuse. Bulgaria and several other countries have detailed criminal law against sexual grooming on children. It promulgates that, a person who gather or provide materials that help identify a minor on the internet, with the intent to sexually abuse or take sexual favor from the child, will be subjected to 1-6 years in prison. However, the prosecutors and the judges seldom use this law, because they don’t understand what the problem is. Therefore, when the pedophiles were arrested, evidence of him grooming teenage girls and child sexual abuse materials were found, the prosecutor will charge him not with child grooming, but with Possession, which has a lower penalty than sexual grooming.
- Lately in Europe, the US and other countries, there is a regress, not progress, in the protection in children’s right. There are strong conservative and religious extremist movements against sexual education for children. It is now a taboo in many European countries. These movements, worrying sex education will sexualize children, can cause the government to withdrawal child protection bills in parliament. However, lack of sexual education will hinder children’s ability to protect themselves from sex crimes. Therefore, we need international corporation to counter back the national conservative movement. International corporation is needed to identify the best example, both in laws, and in practice.
Rangsima Deesawade (Ying), Regional Coordinator for East and Southeast Asia, ECPAT International
- Regarding the relevant international legal framework, the Lanzarote Convention has articles on corruption of children (Article 22) and solicitation of children for sexual purpose (Article 23). Nationally, Malaysia’s Sexual Offenses against Children Act (2017) and Philippines’ Anti Child Pornography Act (2009) also include articles on grooming of children for sexual purposes. Other than that, according to ICMEC (International Center for Missing & Exploited Children), out of 196 countries, 133 countries have no legislation specifically addressing online grooming.
- The main obstacles for grooming to be criminalized is that, prohibition on grooming has been seen by some lawmakers and criminal justice experts as a preventive law. To them, grooming is more like a preparative act, and it cannot be subject to criminal punishment before the actual commitment of the crime. Besides, online grooming without the intent to meet is also hard to be convicted. Because it is difficult to determine when the crime has been committed. Sometimes the process could take months, but sometimes it only takes less than 20 minutes before offline meeting.
- Children need protection before more serious sexual crimes happen. Hence, early intervention of criminal justice to identify the offenders and victims is necessary. Moreover, not criminalizing grooming would encourage such behaviors, and the power imbalance would be reinforced. What is worst is that, the perception is created that victims are to be blamed for failing to say no or refusing to engage in sexual conduct. Sometimes it could even be regarded as consensual.
- Better law enforcement resources are also needed, such as more specialized capacity and tools. Ying stresses that, cooperation with the private sector can be significant, especially with the Internet Service Providers. They can help implement safe measures for children online. No matter what, wider social supports, including victim supports, public education and report systems, should be involved.
Wenying Su, Child Protection Specialist, UNICEF China
- Modern internet platforms make it more convenient to conduct online sexual abuse, and makes it easier for child sexual abuse materials to spread. As a solution, online material should be reduced and Internet should be cleared. Combined with online warnings for potential offenders, the authority should promulgate a new code of conduct on the Internet and impose greater responsibility on Internet operators.
- International collaboration on preventing grooming is a must.
- Interdisciplinary research in psychology, criminology and linguistics. The guardian and the school should invest more in the education of Internet for children. Besides, designing different data world frameworks for different age groups of minors is becoming more and more urgent.
Joy Katunge, Advocate of the High Court of Kenya and Legal Officer at Kenya Alliance for Advancement of Children
- Initially, Joy Katunge introduced the traits of online grooming. It is a process of establishing trust and emotional connection with a child through internet or other digital technologies to facilitate either online or offline sexual contact. Children who are groomed can be sexually abused or exploited. The groomer may be a familiar person around, who may also build a relationship with the child’s family or friends to make them seem trustworthy or authoritative. Also, anybody can be a groomer, no matter their age, gender, or race.
- Social networking websites, Instant messaging apps and online gaming sites are the most often used platform for grooming.
- Gender ratio of the victim of grooming, which is 65% female and 35% male. After that, she emphasized the universality of online grooming based on the distribution data of online child sexual exploitation in 4 counties in Kenya.
- Additionally, she introduced the referral of online child sexual exploitation cases, ranging from the Department of Children Services in the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, KE-CIRT-National Computer Incident Response Team to the National Child Helpline (116). Moreover, she affirmed the existing legal regulations, through The African Union Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection, The Sexual Offences Act, Section 16(A) (1) (LoK), and The Computer Misuse and Cyber Crimes Act No.5 of 2018. She also introduced efforts in Kenya to combat online child sexual exploitation, such as the Department of Children Services in MOLSP, KE-CIRT-detects, National Plan of Action on online child sexual exploitation 2020-2024, etc.
Xiaoyuan Shang, Professor of Beijing Normal University
- There were 271 million children in China, accounting for 20% of the country’s total population, however, over 27 million children could be victims of CSA. Therefore, violence and sexual abuse against children is an extremely serious challenge that China faces in the field of child development.
- Usually there are six steps in the process of CSA: targeting the victim, gaining the victim’s trust, filling the need of the victim, isolating the child, sexualizing the relationship, and at last, maintaining control.
- Child grooming is a part of CSA, paying more social and academic attention to the issue will help raise the public awareness of CSA and its negative impacts.
- Research on child grooming will help us obtain new knowledge on the nature and process of child sexual abuse. We can use the knowledge in policymaking, so as to identify the most vulnerable child groups, to reduce risks of CSA faced by these children, and to contribute to the prevention of CSA on the internet.
- Shang reinforces the importance to fill the gaps in children protection laws. Although many new laws and regulations were issued and implemented in the past a few years, because of the complexity of CSA, there is still a long way to go to improve the law on child protection. Compare to other countries, there are problems in child protection laws in China, including the age of sexual consent, the protection of boys, the definition of child sexual assault.
Maia Rusakova, Associate Professor for Department of Sociology, St. Petersburg State University; Executive Director of Stellit NGO; and Regional Board Representative for ECPAT Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
- many children in Russia do not realize that they are doing the wrong thing, and the training of children’s awareness of prevention is also an issue that needs attention. She proposed to protect children from grooming and online grooming, and to enhance the children’s ability to protect themselves without the help of external forces is essential.
- For many reasons, Russian parents also lack scientific skills regarding grooming and sex-related issues when educating their children. Parents to avoid discussing similar issues with their children.
- She thinks what we have to do now is to change the attitude. Grooming is the first step before sexual exploitation. At the very last, Maia remarked, unfortunately, compared with criminals, the society often lack time to prevent children from advancing to a more serious stage in grooming.
We believe that the webinar series hosted by CLIA on child rights issues will be a concrete step toward for bringing attention and synergy among professionals from diverse backgrounds to combating violence against children. Global Challenge and Legal Response on Child Grooming for Sexual Purposes was the kickoff of the webinar series launched by Child Law International Alliance (CLIA). CLIA will dedicate in building a professional communication platform focusing on the most advanced issues on international child protection. Experts, researchers and practitioners working on child protection are most welcomed to share their recent studies and thoughts on this platform. Together, we would be empowered to enhance the welfare of children all over the globe.