The Countess of Wessex has paid made an impassioned plea for online safety for children during a visit to Brussels this week.
Sophie arrived in Belgium on December 7th 2021 for a series of engagements in her role as Patron of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
At a seminar in partnership with the European Parliament Intergroup for Children’s Rights, Sophie gave a speech outlining ways to ensure children’s safety online with regards to sexual exploitation and how it can turn into an offline problem as well.
Sophie began: “Today’s internet-age presents us all with enormous and positive opportunities to engage with each other online in ways we have never been able to do before. However, this virtual opening also presents new and very dangerous threats to our children, including the way that the internet enables predators to commit truly horrific abuse within what should be the sanctity and safety of a child’s own home.”
She continued: “It is all our responsibilities to seek ways to prevent these crimes being committed, and so…today I ask you to rededicate your efforts to ensure that the internet is a place of safety for all.”
She later said: “I am profoundly sorry to say that we are simply not protecting or preparing our children to use this transnational and virtual space. But, let us recognise that this is a challenge we can solve and we can and must look to give children the safe and happy environment they deserve.”
Sophie outlined ways to ensure online safety including balancing fundamental rights of internet with regards to privacy, ensuring children have access to safe-by-design websites and service and working with civil society organisations that point out the gaps in safety and ways that internet companies can enforce safety and privacy online.
She concluded: “Today, I hope we are one step further along the road in making the world – both virtual and physical – a safe place for all our children and the children of the future. I thank you for listening to me, but more particularly I thank you for the time you dedicate to solving this imperative issue.”
Sophie’s full speech can be found here.
Sophie also paid a visit to Child Focus, a charitable organisation working to find and support missing and sexually exploited children. The charity wrote on its Facebook page[ that the Countess is ”sensitive to the problem of child sexual exploitation and is particularly concerned about the increasing spread of images of child sexual abuse on the internet and social networks… We thank her for this recognition.”