Sheikh Saif bin Zayed: social media firms must do more to combat online child exploitation

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior says greater co-operation is required to protect young people

Opening remarks at the forum by Sara Awad Issa Musallam, Chairwoman of the Department of Education and Knowledge Member of the Board of Trustees of the Abu Dhabi Early Childhood Authority. Victor Besa / The National

A senior Emirati minister has urged social media companies to do more to protect children from online sexual exploitation amid a sharp rise in global cases during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, said online platforms must "show more co-operation and effort" to safeguard young people from cyber threats.

Sheikh Saif said incidents of online child exploitation across the world were up 106 per cent from the previous year in 2020, highlighting the need for tougher action.

He was speaking on the opening day of the first World Early Childhood Development Forum in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, which coincided with Emirati Children's Day.

"I therefore would like to call on the international community to play a greater role in the interest of our future, our children today and tomorrow, and I call on social media companies to show more co-operation and effort to protect children in the digital world,” Sheikh Saif said in a broadcast address to the forum.

He praised the UAE for bucking the worrying global trend, with cases of online child exploitation recorded in the Emirates dropping by 34 per cent in the same period.

"I value all the strides made to develop solutions that positively affect the lives of our children and work to provide a friendly, supportive environment for their development as well as protect them from the dangers surrounding them," Sheikh Saif said.

Social media giant aims to address concerns

In November, Facebook and Instagram called on users to report and not share content potentially harmful to children as part of a Mena-wide campaign being launched that month.

Teenagers under 16 were encouraged to put safety first and to create only private accounts on Instagram.

The campaign was launched by the social media networks' parent company Meta set out to inform people that sharing exploitative material of children, even in the context of outrage or condemnation, can cause further harm and is illegal.

David Miles, head of safety at Meta for Europe, Middle East and Africa, said at the time the organisation focused heavily on prevention and continued to work to ban child sexual exploitation and avoid even the potential for abuse.

“With this comprehensive approach in 2020, we removed more than 20 million pieces that violated our child nudity or sexual exploitation policy. Ninety-nine per cent of these were removed before anyone reported it," Mr Miles said.

International experts gather for forum

Hussain Al Hammadi, Minister of Education, attended the Abu Dhabi forum. Victor Besa / The National

The World Early Childhood Development forum was organised by Abu Dhabi’s Early Childhood Authority and is being held for two days at Yas South Skate Park in the capital.

ECA works on health and nutrition, child protection, early education and supports mothers from pregnancy until their children’s eighth birthdays.

There will be 50 speakers and more than 250 policy influencers, academics and professionals from various sectors taking part.

The inauguration of the forum was attended by a number of leading ministers and officials, including Hussain Al Hammadi, Minister of Education and Jameela Al Muhairi, Minister of State for Public Education and chief of Dubai Schools Inspections Bureau at Dubai's Knowledge and Human Development Authority.

Sheikh Theyab bin Mohamed bin Zayed, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Early Childhood Authority, said protecting the rights of young children was a priority of the government.

“The Early Childhood Development sector is a major priority for the Abu Dhabi Government, in which we wholeheartedly believe in the impact of a child’s early years on their lives and future.

"Through this inaugural event, we explore and discuss equipping children, the future of our world, with the knowledge and skills needed to overcome challenges, cope with change and contribute to building their communities. Abu Dhabi welcomes you to our first-ever WED Forum.”

Updated: March 15, 2022, 3:17 PM