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‘Virtual’ launch of new Pakistan portal in response to Coronavirus restrictions

Despite travel bans, experts say there must be no delaying what could be a ‘significant’ move for children’s online safety.

Despite travel bans, experts say there must be no delaying what could be a ‘significant’ move for children’s online safety.

Campaigners on the front line of the global fight against online child sexual abuse have been forced to find novel solutions in the wake of international travel restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), in partnership with the Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) Pakistan and the Global Fund to End Violence Against Children, has today (19 March) launched a new reporting portal in Pakistan – a move which could be a “significant” step in keeping children safe online.

Due to travel restrictions, however, the launch will now be a “virtual launch”, with partners deciding improvements to children’s online safety must not be delayed.

Instead of a physical event, partners will speak online via livestreams, and will interact over the internet in a bid to avoid further spreading the coronavirus.

The IWF is the UK-based charity responsible for finding and removing online child sexual abuse material.

The new portal will allow people in Pakistan to anonymously report child sexual abuse material in three different languages – English, Urdu, and Pashto. The reports will then be assessed by trained IWF analysts in the UK.

The portal will be the 33rd portal set up around the world to fight the spread of online child sexual abuse material.

The launch had been due to take place in Pakistan and would have been attended by representatives from the Pakistan child helpline (Madadgaar) and the British High Commission in Pakistan, as well as representatives from the IWF.

However, following the cancellation of flights and public gatherings because of the virus, it was decided a “virtual” launch would be the best solution.

The IWF’s Chief Executive Susie Hargreaves said: “We have decided that, despite the strain that the current pandemic is putting on business, resources and life in general, it is still important to give global citizens a reporting option for child sexual abuse material online and not to delay.

“Therefore, we have opted to proceed with the launch, which shall be completely virtual. The in-person launch event will be cancelled, but we may hold a virtual meeting of delegates from Pakistan via Zoom instead.”

The IWF’s International Development Manager Jenny Thornton had been preparing to travel to Islamabad to attend the launch. She said that, despite the travel bans, there must be no delaying what could be a “significant” move for children’s online safety.

Ms Thornton said: “Pakistan is the fifth biggest country in the world by population, and 35% of their people are children.

“As a country, it has the world’s second highest number of children who are not in school, and that is estimated at 22.8 million children under 16 not going to school. We are talking about a lot of kids here, so the potential for this portal to keep more children safe online around the world is significant.”

A spokeswoman for the DRF said: "In Pakistan, child sexual abuse was considered as a taboo for far too long, making any serious and concerted action against it very difficult.

“However in the last five years, high profile cases have generated public outrage and support for action against these issues.

“Online Child Sexual Abuse currently is criminalised under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, through the offence of child pornography, however the country currently lacks the infrastructure to proactively takedown material relating to Online Child Sexual Abuse.

“This portal seeks to bridge that gap by creating a cross-platform, technological solution for reporting material within Pakistan to protect survivors of sexual abuse from getting re-traumatised and help make the internet safer for children and young adults."

The new portal is funded by the Global Fund to End Violence Against Children. It can be found at https://report.iwf.org.uk/pk

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