On 25 June 2022, hundreds of women business and ministerial leaders from 60 countries gathered at the Bangkok Convention Center for the closing of the 3-day Global Summit of Women. During the closing ceremony, the Vice Chairman of SafeguardKids Foundation called on women’s natural leadership ability to help keep children safe from violence online and offline.
Confronting the Global Trafficking of Children
by Khun Suriyon Sriorathaikul, Managing Director of Beauty Gems and Vice Chairman of SafeguardKids Foundation Thailand
It’s an honor to be with you this evening. Thank you in advance for your time and attention. I greatly appreciate this speaking opportunity from the organizers of the Global Summit of Women 2022.
Over the course of this summit, we have shared valuable insights and ideas on expanding business opportunities and highlighting women’s distinct role in economic development.
We looked at ways that we can utilize technology – particularly online technology like social media, cryptocurrency, and metaverses – to grow our businesses. And grow back better after the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
During the coronavirus pandemic, we witnessed women leave the workforce in alarming numbers. In the US, the number of women who left the workforce was double the number of men. Much of the pressure pushing women out of the workforce was due to increased workloads alongside increased responsibilities at home.
Many families had to work and study together from home. We remained indoors with our children, staring at screens day and night. Children across the globe spent more time online during the pandemic unsupervised. Separated from their peers and restrained indoors, children reached out to people online for social interaction.
Before the pandemic, child trafficking and online child sexual exploitation were already on the radar of law enforcement agencies and child protection organizations across the globe.
Abusers do not need to be in the same room as the child victim. They can groom a child online and convince the child to share indecent photos and videos of themselves.
Some abusers hire a trafficker to find and coordinate children. For example, predators in Western countries pay traffickers in Southeast Asian countries to arrange children to perform sexual acts live on video calls.
Traffickers may be a close relative of the childor a neighborhood nanny. Ignorance to the impacts of child abuse, poverty, Internet connectivity, and English skills can be driving factors of online child sexual exploitation.
During the pandemic, the number of vulnerable children online surged. In Thailand last year, the cases of online child sexual exploitation recorded by the Royal Thai Police’s Task Force for Internet Crimes against Children involved around 400,000 child victims.
Note that many cases of online and offline abuse go unreported. Reasons include fear of retaliation, shame, as well as not knowing who to trust and how to report the abuse. Child protection organizations like SafeguardKids Foundation, Childline Foundation, and Hug Project raise awareness in Thailand about forms of exploitation and what children can do to keep themselves safe.
Online abuse has no borders.
Being aware of the transnational nature of child sex abuse, Her Majesty Queen Silvia of Sweden, Founder of World Childhood Foundation, shared lessons learned by Sweden with numerous countries, including Thailand. At a 2010 conference by the Thai Ministry of Justice, Her Majesty Queen Silvia highlighted how laws against child sexual abuse materialwere passed in Sweden in 1996 and 2010 to better protect children from sexual crimes.
We listened. We learned. And we lobbied.
In 2015, Thailand passed legislation to criminalize the possession of child sexual abuse material.
Offenders can be imprisoned 5 years for possession, 7 years for forwarding, and 10 years for producing.
This law was passed nearly unanimously, with 193 of 196 parliamentarians voting in favor. The successful lobbying was done by a team of passionate Thai and Swedish patrons who formed SafeguardKids Foundation.
Before this law, Thai police could not detain offenders who were producing and sharing photos and videos of inappropriate interaction with children. Many offenders escaped justice and continued to sexually abuse children in Thailand. These offenders included Thai men and large numbers of foreign men who travelled across the globe for direct contact with children.
Efforts to keep children safe continue until this day. Thai legislators are currently reviewing a bill to extend protection from other forms of online harm to children. The new proposed bill criminalizes online grooming, sextortion, sexting, harassment, cyber-stalking and cyber-bullying. It also criminalizes accessing child sexual abuse material, like Western laws. So far, the draft bill has received positive support fromThai Senate and Cabinet and is under further review by our Ministry of Justice.
As I mentioned, online abuse has no borders. Child safety is a global cause. We must all take part.
As industry leaders, decision-makers and influencers from over 60 countries, what are we doing to keep children safe online and offline?
The business development technologies we discussed during this summit – from social media, cryptocurrency, and metaverses – areexploited by child abusers.
They exploit social media to find child victims and to bond with other people who share harmful interests.
These abusers exploit cryptocurrency to pay for photos, videos, and live performances of child sexual abuse. They use it to pay for access into private groups in the Darknet where they can trade their collections and give each other advice on how to evade detection and justice. (The Darknet is a special-access part of the Internet where people can anonymously interact and hide their communications.)
Now, as we explore the metaverse of virtual worlds online, we must be aware of harmful interaction between people, especially between adults and children in this realm. Harassment, sexual touch, and rape already occur between players in metaverse, and the victims are psychologically and emotionally impacted.
To ensure children’s safety, we can take advantage of women’s natural leadership skills. Women are designed to think about the collective consequences of decisions on broader society, as evidenced by studies on women in the workforce.
You here in this room have the power to influence the impact that technologies and your businesses make on society.
Stay aware of the dangers posed by innovative technologies. Integrate child safety measures into the design of your products and services, contribute to strengthening local communities, support child protection organizations, promote digital literacy and online safety education programs.
During dinner tonight, let’s connect with each other and share ideas on actions we can take to help our children stay safe in the digital world and in the real world. Thank you!