About 20 000 (9 per cent) Namibian children aged between 12 and 17 experienced online sexual exploitation between 2020/2021.
According to Disrupting Harm in Namibia, online child sexual exploitation and abuse (OCSEA) includes blackmailing them into sexual activities, sharing their sexual images without permission, or coercing them to engage in sexual activities through promises of money or gifts.
Disrupting Harm in Namibia is an unprecedented large-scale multi-country research project by Early Child Prostitution and Trafficking International (ECPTA) that works to end the sexual exploitation of children.
ECPTA also focuses on halting the online sexual exploitation of children, the trafficking of children for sexual purposes, and the sexual exploitation of children in the travel and tourism industry.
The ECPTA works with experts from Interpol, Unicef Office of Research – Innocenti, and their networks of both national and global partners.
Disrupt Harm in Namibia collected from early 2020 through to early 2021 with the cooperation of the Namibian government of Namibia and a wide range of public bodies and other organisations active in the country.
A range of statistical data was gathered for 2017–2019, while surveys were conducted with internet-using children, their caregivers and frontline service providers from the private and voluntary sectors.
Interviews were also held with high-level government officials, law enforcement officials, justice professionals, and child victims of OCSEA and their caregivers.
All the information was then analysed and triangulated into the analysis for Disrupting Harm in Namibia, finalised in July 2021.
Disrupt Harm in Namibia found out that most offenders of OCSEA (about 80%) are someone the child already knows, and online crimes can happen while children spend time online or in person but involving technology.
Most children experienced OCSEA through social media, with Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram being the most common platforms.
The research also revealed that most children were more inclined to disclose being victims of OCSEA to their interpersonal networks rather than through formal reporting mechanisms like helplines or the police.
“A notable proportion of children (30%) did not tell anyone about their OCSEA experiences,” the research says.
According to Disrupt Harm in Namibia, the law enforcement, justice and social support systems have insufficient awareness, capacity, and resources to respond to cases of OCSEA appropriately and in a child-friendly manner.
It further says Namibia is yet to enact important OCSEA-related legislation, policies and standards, which hinders the criminal justice system from addressing OCSEA and victims to access justice.
The research suggests that frontline support, law enforcement, and justice workers need training, systemic changes, and resources to sustain the prevention and response to these crimes.
In addition, the research says urgent action from the government, industry and the social service sector is needed to disrupt Harm to children in Namibia.
Children, the research says, should be taught about the risks of sharing sexual content and how to recognise and report OCSEA.
“Educate all law enforcement personnel, justice professionals and social service frontline workers regarding OCSEA and appropriate handling of OSCEA cases with a focus on child-friendly approaches,” the research further says.
In addition, the research urged the government to build the capacity and collaboration of law enforcement to respond to OCSEA involving local and international offenders.
Relevant government agencies should also be allocated funding to address OCSEA and act on the recommendations of Disrupting Harm in Namibia research.