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Australia's coronavirus outbreak raises alarm over online child sex abuse

11:00 | 22/07/2020

Australian police on July 22 warned “insidious” online predators were targeting new child victims after a surge in coronavirus infections put the country’s second-largest city under partial lockdown.

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australias coronavirus outbreak raises alarm over online child sex abuse
There has been an increase in the amount of time spent by people online during lockdown. Photo: BBC

Thomson Reuters Foundation in its recent report cited an announcement from Australian police that, there is a surge of online predators with the target of new child victims amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Australian health authorities said it could take weeks to tame the Covid-19 outbreak after hundreds of new cases reported in the state of Victoria, whose capital Melbourne is in partial lockdown.

The measures prompted the Australian federal police to urge parents to ensure their children do not fall victim to “insidious online predators”, after abuse cases spiked during a national lockdown in March.

Traffic to websites hosting online child sexual abuse content skyrocketed during the earlier lockdown and such material posted to the dark web doubled, police said.

“We suspect that offenders will use this second wave of Covid-19 as an opportunity to find more potential child victims, as young people spend an increasing amount of time online with limited adult supervision,” police commander Jamie Strauss said.

“Our message to online offenders has not changed – if you procure, access and transmit child abuse material, you will be found, arrested and prosecuted,” he added in a statement.

australias coronavirus outbreak raises alarm over online child sex abuse
Online abuse viewers who feed violence have been caught in Australia. Photo: AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE/BBC

From Europe to Asia, cases of online child sexual abuse have soared during coronavirus lockdowns as children spend more time online, making them more vulnerable to abusers.

In Australia, child exploitation has been on the rise in recent years. Nearly 22,000 cases were reported between July 2019 and June 2020, up by almost 50% from a year ago, official figures show.

“Sex offenders are always online, that’s their playground,” said Karen Flanagan, the Australia head of child protection at the charity Save the Children.

“But Covid-19 might have given them access to new groups of children who previously didn't spend as much time online,” she said last week, urging more parental supervision.

State authorities in Victoria on Tuesday reported 374 new Covid-19 cases, up from 275 on Monday, dampening hopes of a slowdown in infections two weeks after nearly 5 million were told to stay home except for essential reasons.

Australia has recorded about 12,000 coronavirus cases and more than 125 deaths.

australias coronavirus outbreak raises alarm over online child sex abuse
Keeping children safe online during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: UNICEF

According to The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (The US), there is a 106% increase in global reports of suspected child sexual exploitation to its CyberTipline compared with March 2019. In India, there has been a 95% rise in traffic searching for child sexual abuse content.

BBC in an article revealing that, in the UK, where 300,000 people are considered a threat to children, there were nearly nine million attempts in April to access child sexual abuse websites which had been previously blocked by the Internet Watch Foundation.

Spanish National Police say reports of online child sex videos leapt by just over 20% since just before the lockdown there began on 13 March.

Their counterparts in Denmark revealed the number of attempts to access child abuse websites has trebled.

australias coronavirus outbreak raises alarm over online child sex abuse
There has been a rise in the number of online child sexual abuse cases amid the pandemic. Photo: NPR
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Reuters, BBC, Equality Now