File picture: Pixabay
File picture: Pixabay

Over 3 million accounts are registered across 10 most harmful child sexual abuse sites on dark web - survey

By Yasmine Jacobs Time of article published Oct 24, 2021

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Cape Town – In the past two years, the reporting of child sexual exploitation and abuse online has reached its highest levels, with the Covid-19 pandemic being a huge contributory factor behind the spike in reported incidents.

This is according to WeProtect Global Alliance who published its 2021 Global Threat Assessment earlier this week.

The report says the scale is unprecedented, with more than 3 million accounts registered across the 10 most harmful child sexual abuse sites on the dark web.

In May 2021, Europol took down a child abuse site on the dark web with over 400 000 registered users.

The US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) processed 60 000 reports of child sexual abuse online every day.

Online child sexual exploitation in South Africa

Unicef South Africa and the Department of Social Development commissioned the Bureau of Market Research (BMR) at the University of South Africa (Unisa) conducted a survey earlier this year which found that one-third of children in South Africa are at risk of online violence, exploitation and abuse.

It also found that 70% of children surveyed use the internet without parental consent.

A total of 25% respondents confirmed that they have added people whom they have never met face-to-face to their friends or contacts list and 18% have sent a photo or video of themselves to a person they have never met face-to-face.

A total of 67% of child participants who have seen sexual images were exposed to them on an online device.

Self-generated sexual material

There has been an alarming increase in child ‘self-generated’ sexual material.

Self-generated content can include child sexual abuse content created using webcams, sometimes in the child’s own room, and then shared online.

In some cases, these children are coerced, deceived or even extorted into producing and sharing a sexual image or video of themselves.

Internet Watch Foundation observing a 77% increase in child “self-generated” sexual material from 2019 to 2020.

Online sexual harm

Online sexual harm is on the rise around the world and remains a pervasive problem across the African continent.

As part of the report, a global study of childhood experiences of more than 5 000 young adults, aged 18 to 20, across 54 countries was completed by Economist Impact.

More than one in three respondents (34%) had been asked to do something sexually explicit online they were uncomfortable with during their childhood.

Approximately 57% of respondents in southern Africa and 37% of respondents in central Africa have experienced at least one incident of online sexual harm.

Also included in the report was a survey of technology companies.

The survey showed that 87% of tech companies use image “hash-matching” (these are tools to detect child sexual abuse material). However, only 37% of tech companies currently use tools to detect online grooming.

Cornelius Williams, Director, Child Protection Programme Team, Unicef said; “It is clear that technology is dramatically changing the nature of child sexual exploitation and abuse online around the world, including across the African continent. No country is immune. Offenders have new ways to access and abuse children. It’s crucial that countries invest in systems and services for child protection to prevent abuse from occurring in the first place. This takes a co-ordinated effort within each country and across the globe.”

LGBTQ+ children at higher risk of online sexual harm

The survey also shows that girls and respondents who identified as transgender/non-binary, LGBQ+ and/or disabled were more likely to experience online sexual harms during childhood. ·

Overall, 57% of female and 48% of male respondents reported at least one online sexual harm.

A staggering 59% of respondents who identified as transgender/non-binary experienced an online sexual harm. This is compared to 47% of cisgender respondents.

A total of 65% of respondents who identified as LGBQ+ experienced an online sexual harm, compared to 46% non-LGBQ+.

Over half of disabled respondents (57%) experienced an online sexual harm, compared to 48% of non-disabled respondents

A total of 39% of racial or ethnic minority respondents would delete or block a person sending them sexually explicit content, compared to 51% of non-minority respondents.

Only 17% of racial or ethnic minority respondents spoke to a trusted adult or peer about the content.

Contact details

Online child sexual exploitation is a big problem in South Africa and around the world. These children are the future and we cannot turn a blind eye to this scourge.


Toll-free helpline: 0800 055 555

E-mail: [email protected]

SAPS Emergency


You can also report an incident on Internet Watch Foundation.


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