Children's rights overlooked in the recent Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee's opinion

Last week, the IMCO Committee of the European Parliament (Internal Market and Consumer Protection), adopted their opinion report on the proposed EU Regulation to prevent and combat Child Sexual Abuse. The adopted opinion takes a notorious step back by significantly reducing the scope of the proposal, failing to create a future-proof and comprehensive policy to protect children from child sexual abuse online.

Eurochild celebrates the improvement acknowledged by the adopted report, which maintains both known and new child sexual abuse material (CSAM). In an open letter published following the February 8 draft opinion of IMCO, Eurochild called on MEPs to recognise the need for the detection of known and unknown CSAM as well as grooming. We thus commend the efforts undertaken by the distinguished MEPs in taking into consideration that databases of known CSAM mostly exist because unknown CSAM can be detected and identified.

However, Eurochild strongly warns against excluding grooming (sexual solicitation of children) from the scope of the proposal. Doing so is to deliberately look away from a crime. Detection of grooming must be covered to prevent children from falling victims in the first place. We call on the European Parliament to fully commit to protecting children at risk of sexual solicitation, to successfully prevent child sexual abuse from its early stages. Children need a future-proof Regulation that covers all types of forms of sexual abuse and services, especially those where most child sexual abuse occurs. We must prevent end-to-end encryption from becoming a safe haven for perpetrators.

Unfortunately, the opinion provides a biased approach to the notion of the fundamental rights of users. It tilts the balance disproportionately in favour to the fundamental right of the user to privacy, striking a poor balance with children’s rights. Children's rights are fundamental rights too and Member States are equally bound to them.

Eurochild still welcomes the emphasis on awareness raising and the strengthening of the role of hotlines and helplines. However, it cannot be overlooked that this is not a solution in itself. These measures can only be effective when complementary to detection and removal efforts applicable to all online services.

For the Regulation to effectively combat child sexual abuse online, a holistic child-rights approach is necessary.The Regulation must promote safety-by-design while ensuring an appropriate legal framework to detect and remove child sexual abuse material and grooming in the critical online spaces. Eurochild calls on the European Parliament to deliver a Regulation that safeguards children’s rights as equal to other fundamental rights, ensuring the best interests of the child are put at its heart.

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