BANGKOK, 9 February 2023 – The Royal Thai Government, development sector, leading technology companies, internet service providers, and civil society have jointly reaffirmed their commitment to creating a safer digital world for children in Thailand, responding to an alarming rate of online child sexual exploitation and abuse in the country.
At a two-day national conference on “Children in the Digital Age: Together for Safer Internet for Children in Thailand”, organized in Bangkok today, more than 300 senior officials and experts from various sectors, including child protection, health, education, law enforcement, and information technology, came together to discuss ways to tackle online child sexual exploitation and abuse in Thailand. Organized by UNICEF in partnership with the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security (MSDHS), Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (MDES), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and ECPAT International, the conference aims at fostering dialogue and knowledge sharing around safer internet for children and young people. It also aims to promote a collective response among key actors in combatting the increasing online risks that children in Thailand face every day.
“Children are spending more and more time on the internet, which offers unlimited knowledge and learning opportunities but also exposes them to all kinds of danger that can happen at any time,” said Kyungsun Kim, UNICEF Representative for Thailand. “We are witnessing an unprecedented surge in online sexual abuse and exploitation of children and young people in many countries, including Thailand. The problem is extremely challenging and requires collective commitment and coordinated action from every sector, and from everyone. We must come together and do whatever it takes to stop all kinds of online threats that can ruin the lives of children.”
”The online world has no borders and therefore no single sector, no single organization, nor a single country can effectively tackle online abuse and the exploitation of children,” said Chuti Krairiksh, Minister of Social Development and Human Security. “Cooperation and collaboration between sectors, government, the private sector and between countries is essential if we are to make sure every child is safe from abuse online.”
According to Disrupting Harm in Thailand, a ground-breaking report released in 2022 by UNICEF, ECPAT, and INTERPOL, 9 percent of children aged 12-17 in Thailand, or about 400,000 children, were victims of online sexual exploitation and abuse in 2021. These incidents include sharing sexual images of children and blackmailing or coercing children to engage in sexual activities through promises of money or gifts.
However, the scale of the problem is often underreported as few children disclosed such incidents to anyone due to a lack of awareness of where to seek help or whom to tell. Around 10-31 percent of child victims did not tell anyone and just 1-3 percent of them reported the incidents to the police, according to the report.
“Technological and digital transformation of Thailand is at the heart of Thailand 4.0, and this aims to connect the not connected including children and young people,” said Dr. Wetang Phuangsup, Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society. “If proper prevention measures are not in place, children’s privacy and protection can be undermined by several risks related to the collection and onward sale of their data and browsing habits, behavior targeting and advertising.”
“Due to the COVID lockdowns and rapidly expanding digital connectivity and services, an increasing number of children have joined the digital space in Thailand,” said Atsuko Okuda, Regional Director, ITU Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. “This conference provides an excellent opportunity for key actors to share experiences and learn about protecting children online.”
“We now have the technology, expertise, data and insight, and plans of action to address the digital sexual exploitation of children,” said Guillaume Landry, Executive Director, ECPAT International Secretariat. “It is time to implement all that we know and make our recommendations a reality. We owe that to the 400,000 children in Thailand who are seriously sexually harmed online every year.”
“Technologies and communication platforms are constantly evolving, and we must ensure that all sectors especially the private sector are ready to give children the protection they need while online, including raising awareness of child online safety issues,” said Thanyaporn Krichtitayawuth, Executive Director of the Global Compact Network Association of Thailand.
At the national conference, ITU also launched updated Child Online Protection Guidelines for children and young people, parents, educators, and policymakers to help make the internet a safer place for children. UNICEF is working with MSDHS and MDES to strengthen the child protection system, ensure that existing mechanisms can effectively prevent and respond to harm online and provide appropriate and timely support to children who are at risk of or exposed to online child sexual exploitation and abuse.
Participating agencies and organizations in the national conference include the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, the Ministry of Digital Economy, the Ministry of Public Health, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Justice, the Royal Thai Police, Global Compact Network Thailand, True Corporations, AIS, DTAC, Meta, Microsoft, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, National Cyber Security Agency, the Internet Foundation for the Development of Thailand, ECPAT International, WeProtect Global Alliance, ITU and UNICEF Thailand, among others.
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