The International Center for Missing and Exploited Children has long been a key part, actually a unique part, of the global family of NGOs focusing on the eradication of child sex abuse, both generally but also very specifically within the online environment where it has zoomed in on the distribution of child sex abuse materials. In that context ICMEC has been monitoring the ways in which countries have been adapting their legislative and legal frameworks to meet the challenges of cyberspace.
ICMEC’s first report on the state of the nations was in 2006 and late last year they published the 8th edition. We see yet more progress, slow but steady. 127 different nations have “refined or implemented new anti-child abuse images laws since 2006”. I have no doubt at all that the mere fact ICMEC is on the case provides a significant incentive for some governments to get their act together because they do not want world opinion to mark them down as backward or indifferent towards the protection of children.
The 8th edition reports that, out of the 196 countries surveyed (the full membership of the United Nations) 82 have “sufficient legislation” to allow for a good enough or adequate national framework. In 2006 (on a slightly smaller number of countries) the number was 27. Whereas in 2006 95 countries had “no legislation at all” specifically addressing child abuse images, by 2016 this was down to 35. However, 50 countries still do not criminalize the knowing possession of child abuse images, regardless of the intent to distribute. Clearly there is a great deal still to do.
The second important report also comes from ICMEC. Entitled “Framing Implementation” it recognises that having the right legal framework is a necessary condition but it is not in itself sufficient. What counts is what happens on the ground.
ICMEC’s starting point here was the 161 countries which, in November, 2015, reported they had anti-child abuse images legislation in place. ICMEC devised a 7-point standard to allow them to form some sort of judgement as to whether or not individual countries were seriously engaged. The results make interesting reading. For example 51 countries say they have no reporting mechanism for addressing child abuse material to the proper authorities and 50 countries reported that they provided no services for victims. I repeat: there is still a great deal to do.