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Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse and Online Exploitation in the Wake of COVID-19: An Open Discussion from Pakistan

The wellbeing of many children around the world has been severely affected as a direct consequence of the measures taken to stop the spread of COVID-19, like the closure of schools and prolonged lockdowns.

The United Nations Secretary-General has reported a global surge in domestic-based violence linked to COVID-19, and calls to helplines in some countries have reportedly doubled. Spending more time on virtual platforms can leave children vulnerable to online sexual exploitation and grooming, as predators look to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic.

With this in mind, Search For Justice – CAN Pakistan, and the Child Protection & Welfare Bureau – Government of the Punjab, hosted an online session on Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse and Online Exploitation, reaching 130 participants.

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The online session was held on 23 June 2020 and involved the participation of Ms. Maria Lucia Uribe, Director of Arigatou International Geneva, Ms. Sadaf Khan, Director of Programs Media Matters for Democracy; Dr. Naeem Zafar, Pakistan Pediatric Association, and President of PAHCHAAN; and Ms. Zahida Manzoor, Child Protection Officer at UNICEF Punjab.

Ms. Uribe was invited to speak about community mobilization for the prevention, protection and empowerment of children to combat online sexual abuse and exploitation. In her intervention, Ms. Uribe talked about the role of parents, caregivers, schools, and faith communities to help prevent children’s online exploitation. She spoke about strategies on prevention, protection and empowerment of children. She made the following recommendations:

• Ensure that community responses are holistic, involving several actors and groups but also taking into account measures that help prevent, protect but also empower
• Make sure that children and youth are part of the strategies to combat sexual abuse and online sexual exploitation of children
• Ensure that education is part of the solution. Education is a powerful tool to enhance children’s critical thinking, empower them to speak and express, and provide support mechanisms
• Engage other actors: the Private sector, UN agencies, health authorities, Media, Internet shops, and religious communities.

We thank the organizers for providing the space to share our views and contributing to raising awareness on this important issue. We also thank the panelists for sharing the floor with us, and the attendants for joining this conversation.

The full recording of the webinar can be seen here.

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