x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

UAE joins coalition to fight abuse online

The country joins a group of international law enforcement agencies to fight child abuse on the internet, and plans to eventually bar anyone with a record of paedophilia from entering the country.

ABU DHABI // The UAE has joined a group of international law enforcement agencies to fight child abuse on the internet, and plans to eventually bar anyone with a record of paedophilia from entering the country. The Virtual Global Taskforce (VGT), established in 2003 to fight online child abuse, aims to dismantle global paedophile networks, co-ordinate covert internet investigations, share and develop intelligence and target sex offenders.

As a member, the Ministry of Interior will focus on spreading awareness about online child abuse, introducing and enforcing legislation, joining global operations, developing monitoring tools and establishing a national child helpline. New legislation, combined with international co-operation, would make it "impossible" for someone with a paedophile criminal record to enter the country. Legislative changes will occur as soon as possible, the ministry said.

Major Gen Nasser al Naimi, the secretary general of the Minister of Interior's office, who represents the UAE on the VGT, said he believed the partnership would "reinforce the country's position to protect the rights of the child". "We will protect, help and support our children, while equipping parents to address the challenges they may face in today's information society," Maj Gen al Naimi said.

A delegation from the Ministry of Interior met this month in Seattle, Washington, and signed onto the VGT soon after. The effort was initiated by Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior. The alliance comprises the Australian Federal Police, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre in the UK, the Italian Postal and Communication Police Service, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the US Department of Homeland Security and Interpol.

The chairman of the VGT, Neil Ghaughan, who is also the assistant commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, welcomed the UAE's membership and was quoted by the ministry as saying: "I look forward to building on this relationship with the support of all VGT members to ensure ongoing collaboration in the pursuit of combating online sexual exploitation involving children worldwide." The private sector and charitable foundations will also be involved in the effort.

Sue Wallace, an English resident in the UAE and mother of a 10-year-old boy, said: "The internet is not safe enough, and it's always a worry as a parent that your child could be exposed [to anything inappropriate]. You want the internet to be as safe as possible." In October, a UN official said progress had been made on child protection in the UAE, but encouraged the country to adopt a substantial federal approach to children's rights.

"My feeling after five days is that there is a real political commitment to do better, and there are many efforts towards child protection and combating trafficking in particular," Najat M'jid Maalla, the UN special rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography said at the time. The UAE has ratified several conventions and international treaties, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Labour Organisation Convention on Child Labour and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children.

hhassan@thenational.ae * With additional reporting by Robert Peterson