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Pledges made in Brussels to step up global fight against online child sexual abuse

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By Gregoire Lory
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A wall is plastered with pictures of men suspected of soliciting purported 10-year-old Sweetie from the Philippines in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Monday Nov. 4.
A wall is plastered with pictures of men suspected of soliciting purported 10-year-old Sweetie from the Philippines in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Monday Nov. 4.   -   Copyright  Peter Dejong/AP

An international alliance of 60 countries has committed to stepping up the global effort to fight online child sexual abuse. More than 85 million child images and videos of child sexual abuse online were found to be circulating on the internet last year. 

Attendees at the WeProtect Global summit in Brussels Wednesday and Thursday were also told there has been a 6,000 per cent increase in illegal material on the web since 2010. 

More than 400 delegates from governments, civil society and technology companies met in the Belgian capital to see how best to combat online child abuse, with up to 600 joining online.

The European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, was there to emphasise the importance of tackling the problem.

"Protecting children online and offline is our responsibility as adults, and my responsibility as a politician," she said. 

"I have tabled proposals that are clear, targeted, and proportionate. That means an obligation for providers to detect, report, remove and block child sexual abuse material, and an EU centre to help these efforts and support the victims."

Daniela Ligiero, 47, founder of the Brave Movement, an organisation which aims to to end childhood sexual violence, was abused from the age of six by a close relative. It was only when she was a teenager that she had the courage to confide in her parents.

Now, she is calling on victims to speak out despite the scars that mark them for life.

"Like many survivors, I lived in fear and in silence for a long time," she told Euronews. "But I'm also one of the few lucky ones, because eventually I had access to resources and help and support that allowed me to be who I am today."

"I think there's a lot of stigma and shame still. And there's this sense that this is something that happens somewhere else, not in our families, not in our communities, and that it's small. 

"But the reality is it's huge. We know from data that approximately one in four girls and one in eight boys around the world will experience some form of sexual violence as children. There are many of us, but most of us are hidden."

Cornelius Williams of UNICEF, the UN agency responsible for supporting children, told Euronews that the consequences of online child abuse are lifelong, because the internet does not forget.

"We're talking millions of images of children that continues to be circulated. And when this image is recirculated, they're retraumatising the child.

"The child can never get rid of these images. Imagine you were abused in your childhood. And as you grow up as a person, that image is still out there, always. It's endless. It's immortal. It never goes away."