Public Opinion is Clear: Urgent Legislation Required to Protect Children from Sexual Exploitation! Read the story

New guidelines set by United Nations seek to improve the global effort to protect children from exploitation

Posted on Oct 19, 2021

(Updated October 2021*) The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has long been concerned that many States parties are failing to properly implement the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography* (OPSC), meaning children in those countries are at increased risk of sexual exploitation. As a response, The Committee is releasing a new set of guidelines, to give States concrete advice on how to effectively protect children from sexual exploitation.

For almost 20 years, the OPSC has existed as a legal instrument for states to protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation. However, there has been a growing concern that the protocol needs to be adapted to also capture online exploitation. The guidelines were developed by an expert working group led by ECPAT International. They address the more recent trends and issues related to the sale and sexual exploitation of children, such as:

  • Self-produced images
    The OPSC guidelines offer suggestions on how States should approach the increasing number of sexually explicit images/videos produced by children themselves. It is emphasized that children should never be held responsible for sharing these materials.
  • Children’s right to information
    The new guidelines emphasise the need for stronger and more efficient educational programmes to help children have easier access to support groups, as well as inform them of the different ways that they can safely and confidentially report sexual abuse and exploitation. One suggestion presented by the guidelines involves the use of tech-friendly platforms to educate children, parents, school teachers, and caregivers to learn about online abuse.

“The difficulties in tackling the sexual exploitation of children are magnified by the use of the darknet and its anonymity and encryption services. Networks with the intention to harm children are spanning across multiple countries and jurisdictions which is a challenge for law enforcement.”

— Robbert van den Berg, Former Executive Director at ECPAT International

  • The child as a victim
    The guidelines advise how States can improve their legal systems to make sure sexually exploited children are treated as child victims, not criminals. This is crucial for children who are sexually exploited through prostitution in countries where prostitution is illegal.

OPSC guidelines - sexual exploitation children - ECPAT

  • The role of the private sector

    The pivotal role that businesses play in combatting child sexual exploitation is also highlighted. Banks need to work to stop payments, internet service providers should block illegal sites and increase their cooperation with law enforcement, the travel and tourism industry should work to prevent their services from being misused by offenders, to mention a few.

“I hope that the new Guidelines will provide the instructions needed for States to adequately criminalise the sale and sexual exploitation of children”

—Maud de Boer, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Sale of Children

Other issues addressed in the guidelines include more gender-sensitive support programs for victims—particularly for boys, more attention to the protection of more vulnerable groups of children.

ECPAT and its working group provide additional clarifications

To complement the guidelines and give more detailed information and concrete examples on how to implement certain provisions, an Explanatory Report was developed by a working group led by ECPAT International. The report provides the level of detail necessary to guide States in establishing solid child protection systems. The working group also advised the Committee during the drafting process of the guidelines.

Today, the OPSC Guidelines and the Explanatory Report are launched to law- and policymakers, child protection organisations and the media with the aim to take new steps to eliminate all forms of sale and sexual exploitation of children.  

Read the Explanatory Report in English here
Read the Explanatory Report in French here
Read the Explanatory Report in Spanish here

Guidelines regarding the implementation of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography


*ECPAT avoids terms that might harm or trivialize the sexual abuse of children. However, we are using phrases such as “child pornography” in this specific case because it is the title of the Optional Protocol referred to.