Baroness Joanna Shields is the UK minister for internet safety and security
We think of the internet as a force for good - and so it is - but today there are dark clouds on the horizon. Faster internet, anonymous access and cryptocurrency mechanisms all provide opportunities for criminals to access child sexual abuse images.
Images of child sexual abuse are uploaded and shared everyday. Some of these images are screen captures of live-streamed sexual abuse of children of all ages, even infants. Each image, each video depicts a crime scene of unspeakable horror.
Child sexual abuse is a global crime that transcends borders, and demands a global response. The WePROTECT Global Alliance to end online child sexual exploitation is that response.
The goal of WePROTECT is to eradicate child sexual exploitation online. Full stop. Its mission is to empower everyone with a responsibility to protect children online, to identify and safeguard victims, remove child sexual abuse material from the internet and track down perpetrators all over the world.
Led by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, we started WeProtect in 2014 and in just two years, 63 countries and international organisations as well as civil society organisations and major companies including Google, Facebook, Microsoft have committed to its principles and global statements of action. Everyone involved understands that to make progress, it takes all of us - united behind one goal.
WePROTECT recently merged with the Global Alliance Against Child Sexual Abuse Online to create, for the first time, a single organisation with the influence, expertise and resources to transform how online child sexual exploitation is dealt with worldwide.
Tragically, once an image of child abuse has been posted on the internet it remains there forever unless action is taken. To reduce the availability of this vile material the Internet Watch Foundation has shared 19,000 digital identifiers of child abuse images known to law enforcement agencies with technology companies including Google and Facebook, to enable them to delete corresponding images from their platforms. Internet search providers are also removing routes to child abuse images in their search results and it is having an affect; since the start of WePROTECT, Google has seen an eight-fold reduction in search attempts.
In addition to the production and sharing of indecent images of children, what is increasingly worrying is the emergence of new threats including the live streaming of child abuse. Significant levels of poverty and faster internet connections enable this form of abuse to thrive in countries such as the Philippines, fuelled by demand from overseas - including sex offenders in the UK. Our National Crime Agency has worked with its counterparts in the Philippines to apprehend those perpetrating this abuse in both our countries, and to help safeguard child victims. This has led to significant successes, including the arrest last year of three female facilitators of live streaming and the protection of 13 children.
This government is committed to stamping out this terrible crime and in 2014 the Mr Cameron pledged £50m over five years towards this aim. Through a partnership with UNICEF the first £10m has supported programmes in 17 countries to tackle this issue. Later this year, UNICEF will launch the new Global Fund to End Violence against Children, with the remaining £40m pledged specifically to tackling online child sexual exploitation.
Child abuse, in all its forms, is an abhorrent crime. The perpetrators of online child sexual abuse will continue to take advantage of the latest technology to serve their purposes so it is imperative we remain one step ahead of them. Only by working together in the WePROTECT global alliance can we eradicate this abuse and protect children no matter where they live in the world.