A new international accord calls on countries to redouble efforts to stop child abuse online.
By Menekse Tokyay for Southeast European Times in Istanbul -- 12/12/12
Computer users at an Internet café in Istanbul. [AFP]
A new agreement among dozens of countries to fight internet child pornography could bolster Turkey's ongoing efforts to address the issue.
The Global Alliance against Child Sexual Abuse Online, including Turkey and 27 EU member states, was launched recently at an international meeting in Brussels. Signatory nations pledged to do more to block online access to child pornography, prosecute those who produce it and support victims.
In addition to the EU nations of Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece and Romania, other regional countries supporting the initiative are Albania, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia.
Members are also expected to pool resources and develop joint cross-border police investigations supporting the alliance's goals.
According to UN figures, millions of images of children subjected to sexual abuse and exploitation can be reached online. Authorities said there are an estimated 50,000 new images of child pornography that are uploaded to the internet annually.
AKP Istanbul deputy Turkan Dagoglu, who heads the Turkish parliament's Children's Rights Monitoring Committee, told SETimes that international co-operation is critical to the fight against child pornography since the networks behind it are often global themselves.
"International pedophile networks mostly exploit the lack of information exchange and legal gaps among and within countries," said Dagoglu, who participated in the Brussels conference.
"Child sexual exploitation is not an issue which can be dealt with overnight, rather it requires an intensive process of focusing on this issue."
Indeed, Turkey is involved in a range of global initiatives to stop online child pornography.
In 2011, the Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK), Turkey's internet watchdog agency, became a member of the International Association of Internet Hotlines.
"That network offers the possibility to report internet material comprising examples of illegal child sexual abuse so that they could be removed and investigated through relevant law enforcement agencies and the internet service-provider hosting that content," Tayfun Acarer, head of BTK, told SETimes.
Acarer added: "This membership served to team up for more concentrated and better co-ordinated action worldwide by sharing best practices and pooling resources for a problem that knows no borders."
Meanwhile, BTK has supported a range of domestic initiatives to combat child pornography on the internet. In November 2011, it set up an Information and Notification Centre "in order to provide citizens with the opportunity to notify us all illegal and harmful contents spreading through internet," Acarer said.
According to Dagoglu, such efforts would be more effective if the private sector also drew on new technologies to support the fight against child pornography.
"For example, Microsoft developed this year a powerful technology based on image matching, named PhotoDNA, to support law-enforcers to tackle child pornography," she told SETimes. "The technology is being used to find, report and eliminate online child pornography images that were previously undetected."
But Nuket Isiten, a professor and child psychology expert at Istanbul's Uskudar University, acknowledged the on-going efforts, but said that shutting down abusive websites is only one part of the solution.
"The closing of such sites is not a long-term solution because each day new ones can be opened, and even closed. Those sites can operate under different formats," she told SETimes. "So, the key is to remove all facilitating means to reach child pornography sites."
Isiten added that the government and other concerned parties should pay careful attention to social networking sites, where children are vulnerable to manipulation by predators. Adults often pose as minors online to gain youths' confidence before initiating other types of contact.
"During my professional life, I saw many children become victims of online sexual abuse due to the uncontrolled interaction with online perpetrators' network in social platforms," Isiten said.
"Among them, a significant number of children witnessed unwanted life experiences resulting in heavy psychological traumas and will require a long treatment and monitoring process due to the post-trauma stress they create," she said.
The Global Alliance will announce specific measures by April 1st, 2013 to be taken against online sexual abuse of minors while advising the public about specific precautions they can take in the near term, officials said.