Concerns are mounting over the alarming rise in online child abuse across Africa, posing significant threats to future generations and the continent as a whole.

This pressing issue was highlighted during the two day National Consultation of Sexual Exploitation of Children in Nigeria, organised by the Women’s Consortium of Nigeria (WOCON) in partnership with ECPAT International.

The concerns raised follow a recent study by the University of Edinburgh’s Childlight Global Child Safety Institute, revealing that over 300 million children worldwide face online sexual exploitation and abuse each year. Researchers found that in the past year alone, nearly 13 percent of the world’s children have been victims of non-consensual sharing and exposure to sexual images and videos.

The study, based on data from major global watchdogs and policing organizations such as the Internet Watch Foundation and Interpol’s International Child Sexual Exploitation database, also uncovered numerous cases of solicitation, including unwanted sexting and requests for sexual acts. Stakeholders therefore for stricter regulation of social media to ensure children’s safety and prevent further exploitation.

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ECPAT Highlights Shocking Statistics

Willy Buloso, the Regional Coordinator for Africa at ECPAT International, raised that the statistic is high due to the minors’ young ages, submissiveness, and fear of speaking out, hence the rapid spread of child abuse in Africa. 

Willy Buloso, ECPAT International's Regional Coordinator for Africa at national consultation of the sexual exploitation of children
Willy Buloso, ECPAT International’s Regional Coordinator for Africa at the National consultation of the sexual exploitation of children

He stressed that many people are unaware of the severe dangers posed to society and the victims themselves.

Buloso also highlighted the urgent need for comprehensive cooperation among all stakeholders to combat these crimes. This includes civil society groups, government agencies at all levels, telecom companies, social media platforms, parents, children, social workers, and caregivers.

Such collaboration is crucial to ensuring a quick response to this growing threat. Additionally, Buloso called for more research to develop long-lasting solutions to online sexual exploitation of children.

L-R: Director of WOCON, Morenike Omaiboje, Executive Secretary of the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Agency (DSVA), Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi, and WOCON’s Project Consultant, Femi Abe at the National Consultation of Sexual Exploitation of Children in Nigeria

On her part, the Director of WOCON, Morenike Omaiboje, highlighted how cultural and religious beliefs affect children in the country and expressed concern over the rising rate of child sexual exploitation. She noted that family and friends often interfere, significantly contributing to the exploitation.

She emphasised the importance of educating children, particularly in rural communities where awareness is lacking. Omaiboje hence urged the government to focus more on children’s needs and collaborate with civil societies. “The government should make sensitization more available in rural communities, which are the most vulnerable,” she advised.

Femi Abe, a member of the team conducting research on sexual exploitation of children in Nigeria, highlighted emerging trends such as online child sextortion, increased exploitation of boys, and online blackmail. He also pointed out that poor policy enforcement, an inadequate reporting system, limited helplines, insufficient manpower, and a delayed justice system are key issues contributing to the surge in child sexual exploitation.

Focus on Justice and Compensation for Survivors

Representing the Attorney General of Lagos State, Moyosore Jubril Onigbanjo, the Executive Secretary of the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Agency (DSVA), Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi, stressed the importance of not only seeking justice but also ensuring compensation for survivors of sexual abuse. She argued that while jailing offenders is essential, focusing on helping the victims recover is equally important.

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Brainstorming Lasting Solutions on Sexual Exploitation of Children

In efforts to find lasting solutions, the consultation saw representatives from civil society, government agencies, and community and religious leaders brainstorming on various strategies. 

Grassroots involvement was emphasised to educate local communities about the sexual exploitation of children. Using both mainstream and digital platforms, public-private partnerships and media engagement were also highlighted as crucial for raising awareness and leveraging resources to combat the issue effectively.

The event was attended by representatives from the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Agency (DSVA), the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), and various community and religious leaders across Nigeria. Together, they emphasised the need for a united front in addressing and eradicating online child abuse to protect Africa’s children and secure the continent’s future.