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UNGA Children exploitation online AI

Child Sexual Exploitation Online: The New Face of the Menace and How to Fight it with Artificial Intelligence

New York, UN HQs -


A High-Level Side-Event to the 76th Session of   the United Nations General Assembly



More than 30 years since the Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted, children continue to have their rights violated on an ongoing basis. While the digital era has enabled unprecedented opportunities to realize children’s rights, it has also intensified children’s exposure to risks and harm, in particular the trafficking of children and online child sexual exploitation. Not only has the scale of abuse increased as a result, but also its severity and complexity.

While the full scale of online child sexual abuse and exploitation remains unknown, existing evidence suggests considerable cause for concern. According to statistics provided by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in its 2020 edition of the Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, there has been a clear increase in the number of children being trafficked in recent years, with children now accounting for over 30 per cent of all detected victims. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in the United States has stated that the number of reports of suspected exploitation has reached its highest number in 2020, with more than 21.7 million reports arriving at NCMEC’s CyberTipline. Again, it is important to underscore that these figures only capture the reported child sexual abuse materials in circulation, the full scope and extent of the threat is unknown. At the same time, technological advancements have not only facilitated the amplification of child sexual abuse material but also driven the emergence of entirely new forms of large-scale abuse facilitated by technology such as online grooming and high-definition live-streaming of abuse.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also had a significant impact on the vulnerability of children, as both children and sex offenders found themselves confined indoors for extended periods of time. Two recent reports – Exploiting Isolation: Offenders and victims of online child sexual abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic, released by Europol in June 2020  and Threats and Trends Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse: COVID-19 Impact, released by INTERPOL in September 2020 – have noted that, as a result of the pandemic, authorities in several countries have reported an increase in the quantity of child sexual abuse material online and attempts to access websites hosting such content. An increase in sexual abuse offences, such as online solicitation and sexual extortion, has also been observed over the course of the pandemic.

With investigators in law enforcement grappling with burgeoning caseloads and growing backlogs, attention is increasingly turning to new tools and technologies that can help turn the tide in the fight to protect children from sexual exploitation online. As one of the definitive emerging technologies of the times, artificial intelligence (AI) is at the very core of this. AI is a powerful technology that is rapidly reshaping how traditional problems are approached, shedding new light on possible solutions. The potential of AI to support law enforcement and related authorities to prevent crimes against children has in fact already been seen. For instance, facial recognition technology has already enabled the identification of numerous missing children and national authorities are actively exploring how they can use machine learning to, for example, identify child abuse images on confiscated devices or to rapidly analyze the vast number of reports of potential child sexual abuse material online in order to swiftly identify children in real danger. Notwithstanding this, AI equally presents a plethora of challenges from not only a technical perspective, but also from a legal, ethical and societal perspective, that must be addressed before the potential of the technology can be realized.

In 2020, the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) and the Ministry of Interior of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) launched the AI for Safer Children initiative with the aim of tackling child sexual exploitation online through the exploration of new technological solutions, specifically AI. To do so, UNICRI and the UAE Ministry of Interior sought to support law enforcement agencies to tap into the potential of AI through a unique centralised platform containing information on AI tools that could be used to combat child sexual exploitation and guidance on how to navigate the ethical challenges presented by the use of AI. Ultimately, the AI for Safer Children initiative sought to contribute to realizing Target 2 of Goal 16 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which envisages an end to abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence and torture against children.

Child safety, protection and dignity have been identified as top priorities in the UAE – a country already well-known for embracing technology and exploring how it can serve the safety of communities. In this regard, the partnership between UAE and UNICRI on AI for Safer Children channels this vision and builds upon the work of UNICRI through its Centre for AI and Robotics to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of law enforcement agencies to prevent crimes by leveraging AI responsibly.


The event will seek to provide an overview of recent trends and developments in child sexual exploitation online, spotlight the key challenges investigators in law enforcement face in combatting child sexual exploitation, including the detrimental effects on their mental health and wellbeing, and describe how AI might be leveraged to turn the tide on child sexual exploitation investigations. The event will also serve to formally introduce the AI for Safer Children initiative to Member States, providing an overview on its programme of work and serving as a call for national law enforcement agencies to participate in the AI for Safer Children initiative.


To register to join the Side-Event, please click here.

Watch live:

The Side-Event will take place virtually on Zoom and will be conducted in English.

For any questions regarding this event, kindly contact Mr. Odhran McCarthy, UNICRI New York Liaison Officer and Programme Officer,