Thai Government and UNICEF step up efforts to curb disturbing rise in child online sexual exploitation and abuse


BANGKOK, 8 February 2024 – To mark Thailand Safe Internet Day, a coalition of policymakers, law enforcement officials, social workers, and civil society convened to affirm their dedication to stepping up actions to combat the escalating issue of child online sexual exploitation and abuse in Thailand. At the National Conference on Child Protection in the Digital Age, all agreed to collaborate on enhanced policies, legislation, and protective services.

According to the groundbreaking report “Disrupting Harm in Thailand” – jointly released in 2022 by UNICEF, ECPAT, and INTERPOL -approximately 400,000 children aged 12-17 in Thailand fell victim to online sexual exploitation and abuse in 2021. That is the equivalent of 9 per cent of children. The report reveals distressing situations where children were either coerced by strangers or individuals mostly known to them into sharing explicit photos. Some were subjected to blackmail or coerced into sexual acts through promises of money or gifts.

At the Conference – organized by UNICEF, the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society – key stakeholders from government agencies, NGOs, academia, the private sector, and children and young people, came together to explore ways to safeguard children from the significant risks of harm online.

“Online risk and harm is an extremely challenging issue as it can happen to any child, anywhere, at any time,” said Kyungsun Kim, UNICEF Representative for Thailand. “We need to work as one and be ahead of the game. That means strengthening our efforts on awareness-raising among children and young people, robust legislation and enforcement, and comprehensive child protection and support services to combat these horrific harms online against children.”

Kim emphasized the necessity to equip children and their caregivers with essential tools such as digital literacy, critical thinking, and open communication channels to enhance their knowledge and awareness. Simultaneously, there is a pressing need for strong legislative measures and enforcement to ensure zero tolerance for online child exploitation, with efficient cross-border collaboration among law enforcement agencies. Moreover, psychological support and legal assistance should be accessible to children and families involved in online sexual exploitation and abuse.

UNICEF is advocating for amendments to the existing penal code and procedures, as well as special laws to criminalize all forms of online child sexual exploitation and abuse, encompassing online grooming, sextortion, and cyberbullying. Additionally, the National Child Protection Strategy must cover all child protection issues, including online risks, with adequate financial allocations for effective implementation.

Building on the momentum of the 2nd Annual ASEAN ICT Forum on Child Online Protection in Bangkok last November, the National Conference aimed to deepen understanding of recent ASEAN guidelines, focusing on improving national legislation and enhancing child-friendly protection and support services for children involved in online child sexual exploitation and abuse.

“I urge all stakeholders—government bodies, the private sector, and civil society—to unite in promoting online safety across the digital platforms where children engage in learning and play,” said Professor Wisit Wisitsora-At, Permanent Security of the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society. “Through collective efforts and unwavering commitment, we can create a digital landscape that ensures the safety and positive experiences of our children in utilizing technology and innovations, leaving no child behind.”

The Disrupting Harm report highlighted a lack of awareness among children and caretakers regarding online dangers and where to seek help. Child victims often refrain from disclosing incidents as they don’t know where to turn to or whom to tell, with only 1-3 percent reporting such incidents to the police. In addition, the report found child victims tend to blame themselves and believe that law enforcement officials and the public would often blame them, too.

To address this issue UNICEF, in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security and the Thailand Safe Internet Coalition, launched the #CautionFirst campaign to urge children and adolescents to “think twice” before sharing photos, videos, and personal information online. This campaign, launched in November 2023, reinforced the message that sextortion and online sexual exploitation is a crime. The campaign aims to protect children from online sexual exploitation and abuse, normalize conversation around the topic and encourage children to seek appropriate help when they are at risk or fall prey to online danger.

“Children and young people hold the key to shaping a better internet, and it is critical that we empower them to do so,” said Anukul Peedkaew, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security.  “Through kindness, respect, and responsible online behavior, they can contribute positively to the digital community. Equally crucial are the roles of parents, educators, industry stakeholders, and policymakers in nurturing a culture of digital citizenship and safety.”

The preceding is a press release published with full permission and authorization by the organization(s) listed in the PR material and TPN media. The statements, thoughts, and opinions of the organization involved in the press release are entirely their own and may not necessarily represent those of TPN media and its staff.

Goongnang Suksawat
Goong Nang is a News Translator who has worked professionally for multiple news organizations in Thailand for many years and has worked with The Pattaya News for more than four years. Specializes primarily in local news for Phuket, Pattaya, and also some national news, with emphasis on translation between Thai to English and working as an intermediary between reporters and English-speaking writers. Originally from Nakhon Si Thammarat, but lives in Phuket and Krabi except when commuting between the three.