The Pope was addressing a two-day conference, which was jointly organised by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, the Child Dignity Alliance and the Interfaith Alliance for Safer Communities and a follow-up on the World Congress on “Child Dignity in the Digital World” in 2017. The Conference ran from the 14 to 15 November.
The conference also heard from H.H. Sheikh Saif Bin Zayed al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior of the United Arab Emirates, H.M. Queen Silvia of Sweden, and His All Holiness Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.
They were joined by 80 invited experts including representatives of international organisations, NGOs, technological companies, economic operators, politicians, jurists and religious leaders from all around the world to discuss ways to combat children being exploited on line.
The Pope told the conference that the “spread of images of abuse or the exploitation of minors is increasing exponentially, involving ever more serious and violent forms of abuse and ever younger children.”
The Pope said that the challenge we face as a society “is to ensure that minors have safe access to these technologies, while at the same time ensuring their healthy and serene development and protecting them from unacceptable criminal violence or grave harm to the integrity of their body and spirit.”
The Pope said the church “senses the duty to approach these issues with a long-term vision,” particularly in circumstances where the church itself continues to confront the clerical sexual abuse crisis.
The Pope noted that “In recent decades, from painful and tragic experience, the Catholic Church has become profoundly aware of the gravity and effects of the sexual abuse of minors, the suffering it causes and the urgent need to heal wounds, combat such crimes and establish effective means of prevention.”
While he noted that development of new technologies provides great opportunities for children in terms of their education and personal growth, allows for a wider sharing of knowledge and offers new possibilities in many areas of their lives, he went on to say that the challenge facing us is to balance these opportunities and possibilities with the need to ensure that children have safe access to these technologies and to protect them from unacceptable criminal violence or harm.
The Pope observed that the use of digital technology to arrange, commission and engage in child abuse at a distance “…is outstripping the efforts and resources of the institutions and security agencies charged with combating such abuse; as a result, it becomes quite difficult to fight these horrific crimes effectively.”
In terms of what measures can be taken to prevent such abuse the Pope emphasised two things:-
- While freedom and protection of privacy are valued principles he said that they needed to be balanced with the common good of society:
- Large companies who operate across national borders and who are at the cutting edge of advances in technology cannot he said consider themselves unaccountable in terms of the services they provide for their customers. He called on these companies to assume their responsibility towards children and said without their commitment and without a full awareness of the moral and social repercussions of their management and functioning it will not be possible to guarantee the safety of minors in the future digital world.
Although parents have the primary responsibility for raising their children, the Pope said, it is becoming increasingly difficult for parents to control their children’s use of electronic devices and he advocated that tech leaders “cooperate with parents” to develop new regulations to restrict children’s access to pornography.
What is clear from the Pope’s address is that greater partnership between industry, Government and law enforcement will be required if we are to solve online abuse in the long term.
Written by Sharon Moohan, partner, BLM