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How Mozambique is turning the tide on child sexual abuse

Jenny Thornton, IWF International Development Manager

Jenny Thornton, IWF International Development Manager

More than one million people live in Maputo city, which sits on the coast of Mozambique. Its south-eastern location on the African continent leaves it vulnerable to the harsh effects of climate change. But my visit to the country this month was to talk about other vulnerabilities facing the country – those of cybersecurity and child safety.

As the Internet Watch Foundation’s International Development Manager, I am working with some of the world’s least developed countries to launch IWF Reporting Portals. These portals are effectively a reporting solution through a specially set up IWF website, just like the IWF model in the UK, with the reports being fed through to our IWF Hotline team in Cambridge.

The roundtable meeting on 17 November 2017, where stakeholders from the country’s government, the internet industry, and police, and the NGO community gathered, was hosted by INCM, the communications regulatory authority for Mozambique. It was attend by 25 professionals dedicated to tackling child sexual abuse online.

Everyone around the table committed not only to launching an IWF Reporting Portal in Mozambique, but to building a landing website that provides citizens with the information, advice and guidance they need for reporting many forms of child abuse, whether this be sexual imagery online, cyberbullying or domestic violence.

Attending the roundtable was the Mozambique child helpline, Linha Fala Criança (LFC). They underscored the importance of the portal being able to receive calls from children worried about sexual abuse photographs of themselves being shared on the internet. The organisation, which is funded by UNICEF Mozambique and Save the Children, said calls regarding sexual abuse of children accounted for 16 percent of their overall total of 114,253 phone calls in 2016 – that’s over 18,000. LFC, which is a member of the IWF’s key partner Child Helpline International, also saw a connection between sexual abuse images of children and the trafficking of children, for which Mozambique is an active ‘corridor’. They emphasised that their commitment to having a reporting mechanism is founded on real problems facing children in Mozambique now.

A recent UNICEF Report named Mozambique as one of the worst countries in the world for girls and boys under 18 experiencing forced sex. Everyone around the table vowed to use this statistic as a catalyst for change, and while Mozambique is the sixth worst in the world for child sexual abuse, it aims to become the fifth country in Africa to launch a Reporting Portal, as part of its determination to tackle this horrific crime and to prevent images of abuse from getting online.

I took time to converse with each person attending the meeting, including Captain Sidique Bila from the Police of the Republic of Mozambique (PRM). When I asked how he and his colleagues deal with cyber security complaints, and reported images of children being raped, he paused. He then shared with me that most of the police stations in Mozambique are not equipped even with computers and that they struggle to tackle online crime. Concerned about both of these issues, he said cybersecurity and child sexual abuse imagery online is something they need help with. The Reporting Portal will fulfil a much-needed function in Mozambique, where child sexual abuse is high and where cybersecurity is very vulnerable. We agreed that the Reporting Portal sends a strong message to anyone looking to exploit both children and the web – that Mozambique is a hostile place for child sexual abuse imagery online.

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