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Why children are at risk of sexual abuse and exploitation during COVID-19

(Click here to read the original post by ECPAT, 7 April, 2020)

COVID-19 has now spread to virtually every country in the world and has a devastating impact on people, economies, health systems, and communities. While most people's lives are put on hold, criminals are finding ways to take advantage of the situation, including those who seek to sexually exploit children. ECPAT has gathered information on how children are at increased risk of sexual abuse and exploitation during this global pandemic.

As the world responds to COVID-19, we see that push factors that facilitate or lead to sexual exploitation of children are expected to intensify. According to ECPAT members across the world, restrictions imposed by governments worldwide to curb the virus heavily impact on children. Today, ECPAT is present in 102 countries, through 118 members.

Socio-economic factors put marginalised children at risk

The impact of the coronavirus has made economies suffer. Millions of people around the world have already lost their job, whilst global stock markets plunged to levels similar to those during previous global crises. We know that in times of crisis, already marginalised groups tend to carry most of the burden of the consequences. When people are financially struggling, children tend to become more isolated and less linked to supportive networks, and the sale of children for sexual exploitation increases. Children living in isolated, remote areas and in refugee settings are at the highest risk, and as offenders hunt for easy victims, marginalised children are more likely to be targeted.

Up to 75 million jobs are at immediate risk in the travel and tourism industry due to the pandemic, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. Asia-Pacific is expected to be the most heavily impacted, with up to 49 million jobs at risk in the region. This dramatically increases the economic vulnerability of families, in particular in countries which depend on income from tourism. But also outside the travel and tourism sector, millions of people are working for an already low wage, now risking to lose their jobs.


Both organisations and law enforcement have seen an increase in sexual crimes against children online during the COVID-19 outbreak. When it becomes more difficult for offenders to operate where they normally do, some tend to migrate elsewhere, often online. You can read more about offline activity moving online further down.

It is easier than ever to access, download, produce and share child sexual abuse material.

Using the Internet to sexually exploit children today is easier than ever. Both to get in contact with children and to find like-minded offenders, which also makes it easier to access, download, produce and share child sexual abuse material. Both through open networks, and over the dark web and peer-to-peer networks.

ECPAT Sweden is one of those who have seen an increase in reports of online child sexual abuse to their hotline. As a response, they have opened a childhelpline to support children who have had sexually explicit images and videos shared online.

"We've had tips of web pages where perpetrators are discussing how the situation we are in now can be exploited."

- Anna Karin Hildingson Boqvist, Secretary-General at ECPAT Sweden.

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