Activists hand over 540,000 strong petition on online child abuse to European Parliament

Survivors from all EU countries and 40 partner child rights organisations in Brussels led by the Justice Initiative.
Survivors from all EU countries and 40 partner child rights organisations in Brussels led by the Justice Initiative. Copyright Euronews
By Isabel Marques da Silva
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They are calling for the strongest possible measures when it comes to the EU's measures preventing and combating online child abuse.

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Activists and survivors handed over a petition Wednesday with more then 500,000 signatures to the European Parliament asking for a strong regulation to prevent and combat online child abuse, after the text approved by the Parliament’s legal affairs committee weakened the European Commission’s initial proposal.

The petition was collected by the NGO Justice Initiative with the Finnish singer and abuse survivor, Scharliina, performing her song at the event in Brussels. Called Pieces of Me, the song is about her own experience of child abuse.

"So many young children experience sexual violence and nowadays more than ever because we have now this new online playground which has no safety regulations to protect children from these horrible crimes," she told Euronews.

"And for me as a survivor it is really important to ensure that no one needs to experience what I experienced."

The European Parliament's latest text eliminated the ability of online platforms to voluntarily detect and remove child abuse material, which can only be done after a court order.

According to Hilde Wautmans, a Belgian MEP, this is to protect the individual privacy of online users.

"The court will order it very quickly and we have also put a lot of measures to prevent material from circulating, because that is the most important thing: to protect our children from becoming a victim," Wautmans told Euronews.

"Maybe it is not 100% like we all want but it is a compromise which we will defend and a big step forward to protect children's rights."

One and three internet users is a child and, last year, there were 32 million reports globally of suspected online child sexual exploitation.

Catharina Rinzema, a Dutch MEP, who is part of the Child Rights Intergroup in the Parliament, also expects companies to step up their own capacities.

"The part of the legislation which is heavily debated is that it is technologically neutral. Is that really the case?" she said in an interview.

"At the moment that we speak, a lot of technological companies are saying to us they have limited capacity to do so, but I am a big believer in the power of innovation and the power of technology."

Negotiations between the European Parliament and member states are due to start soon, but many EU countries are divided and want more time to debate the issue internally.

If passed, the legislation would be one of the most comprehensive in the world and could become a benchmark for other regions.

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