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Published 05.04.23

How to combat sexualised violence: A child rights perspective!

Torsten Krause, SDC

The European Commission’s draft regulation on preventing and combating child sexual abuse released on 11 May 2022 is subject to heated debates in the political area and in civil society, especially in Germany. Some actors focus primarily on the importance of the right to privacy, while others emphasise the importance of child protection, which can easily lead to the perception that these objectives cannot be reconciled. Most recently, the Digital Committee of the German Bundestag dealt with the draft regulation in a hearing titled "chat control" on 1 March 2023 based on a catalogue of eighteen questions submitted in advance to be answered by the invited experts.

As civil society actors, ECPAT Germany, Innocence in Danger, the German Children’s Fund and the Digital Opportunities Foundation took on these questions and focused on the rights of children when answering them. According to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the right to protection from violence and sexual exploitation and the protection of privacy are not hierarchically related to each other, but when in balance with all other children’s rights shall enable children and youths to grow up well. In this regard, the various rights must be regularly weighed against each other. The risk assessment that service providers shall be obliged to apply to their services according to the draft EU regulation is therefore of particular importance, because depending on how risky the service appears to be, the provider must work towards minimising the risks as effectively as possible by targeted precautionary and safety measures, in order to make a significant contribution to a safe online environment for children. Prior to a detection order, which is referred to in the public debate and also by the Digital Committee as a so-called “chat control”, the draft regulation foresees a process comprising several steps, in which national bodies and data protection authorities are explicitly involved in addition to the newly to be established EU Centre. This is to ensure that the technologies used to minimise risks are effective in detecting and preventing the dissemination of known or new depictions of sexualised violence against children or in the prevention of contacting children with a sexualised intention (so called grooming). They should be sufficiently reliable with regard to potential false positives, and respect the right to privacy as well as the confidentiality of interpersonal communication and the protection of personal data as much as possible.

ECPAT Germany, Innocence in Danger, the German Children’s Fund and the Digital Opportunities Foundation presented their position on the EU draft regulation in a digital press conference on 4 April. In their joint statement, which is based on the questionnaire of the Digital Committee of the German Bundestag, the organisations explain in detail how the protection of children from sexualised violence online and the right to privacy of all users in the digital environment can be realised. They make it clear that the European Commission does not intend to monitor and control all interpersonal communication without any reason, as the term "chat control" suggests. At the same time, they show that a holistic approach is needed to fully realise child protection. In this regard it is also important to reflect the draft regulation also in the context of the Better Internet for Kids Strategy (BIK+) of the European Commission.

The joint statement is only available in German language.