Online sexual exploitation of children is a serious new concern and one that requires stakeholders to work together to prevent them and protect children, said a senior official of the Cambodian National Council for Children (CNCC).

Sorn Sabon, deputy head of the CNCC’s General Secretariat, made the remarks at a meeting held to disseminate a new study, “Stopping such incidents in Cambodia-evidence of online child sexual exploitation and abuse” which will be officially announced on September 30.

“Online exploitation of children is a global problem that happens in many forms. It requires all stakeholders – including the public, guardians of children, authorities and civil society organisations – to work together to protect children from this abuse,” she said.

She stressed that the techniques employed by perpetrators are becoming more and more complicated and advanced, and require the cooperation of all concerned parties to combat. The sexual exploitation of children has serious physical and psychological consequences.

“Most child victims find it difficult to trust others, and suffer from despair, loneliness, confusion, frustration, self-blame and fear. The magnitude of the impact of the rehabilitation process on children requires both emotional and physical support from parents, guardians, professionals and their communities,” she added.

She said that along with these needs, children also need to receive legal justice as part of a smooth and speedy rehabilitation process.

According to a September 29 press release, the CNCC, UNICEF Cambodia and EPACT International through APLE Cambodia have shared the report with the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation.

Foroogh Foyouzat, UNICEF Cambodia Representative, said the findings clearly show the magnitude of the risk that children face online in the digital world, with 11 per cent of children aged 12-17 using the internet reporting they had encountered clear examples of online sexual exploitation and abuse in the years before the survey was made.

“16 per cent of children suffered from sexual expression, which occurred mainly on social media. 16 per cent of children have been sent unwanted sexual images and 9 per cent were asked to share pictures of a sexual nature,” she said.

Khieu Borey, secretary of state of the social affairs ministry and chair of the CNCC said online abuse is a global problem.

She said the world is paying close attention and working together to prevent and respond to abuse in the context of information technology. Cambodia is one nation that is stepping forward to contribute to improving child protection and looking after the best interests of children – in the Kingdom, as well as in the world.

“The fourth phase of the Rectangular Strategy has encouraged the allocation of additional resources to education, health, social affairs and other areas. Child development is a priority in building human resources for national development and achievement of the Kingdom’s Sustainable Development Goals 2016-2030,” she added.

“Cambodia is ready to participate in the Industrial Revolution 4.0, focusing on the technology sector that the world is using as a means for effective political, economic and social sectors,” she continued.

The report provided recommendations to promote the online protection of children.

These recommendations include the strengthening of legal frameworks, capacity building to respond to online sexual exploitation of children by all stakeholders across the country and enhancing national and international cooperation.

“We have to work – especially with the private sector – to strengthen response and support mechanisms for victims. We should focus on child-friendly practices that meet international standards, establish an easy-to-use national reporting mechanism and increase resources,” the press release said.

Minister of Posts and Telecommunications Chea Vandeth said in late June that online child protection considerations are important for Cambodian society now, and in the future.

“In the context of the outbreak of Covid-19 and the closure of schools, more than 3 million Cambodian children needed to use online systems for learning, entertaining and communicating. The threat of online abuse, such as threats and sexual abuse of children, are alarmingly high, and require immediate intervention and the implementation of long-term prevention strategies,” he said.

According to recent data from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in the United States, the number of reported cases of online child sexual abuse in 2021 increased by 35 per cent when compared to the previous year.