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The African Union (AU) on Wednesday urged African countries to combat greater risk of online sexual exploitation on children.

The AU made the “urgent call” as it commenced a continental consultation meeting on Combating Online Child Sexual Exploitation (OCSE), slated from March 6 to 8 at the headquarters of the AU in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa. “Internet usage in African countries has increased significantly over the years.

While boosting social and economic development, this increase has led to greater risk of children being sexually exploited online,” the AU said in a statement. Noting the current “limited awareness and understanding amongst government and policy makers within Africa” regarding OCSE, AU stressed that “some do not see the OCSE as a priority and have limited capabilities to tackle the issue effectively.”

The 55-member continental union, which works to create awareness against the threats of online child sexual exploitation, also categorized such risks as an “emerging cybercrime.” The AU, citing a recent report from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), also indicated that internet connectivity in Africa is growing very rapidly, in which some 24.4 percent of Africa’s population used the internet as of December 2018 compared to 2.1 percent in 2005. Young people, particularly those aged between 15 and 24, have been strongly engaged with the internet, in which one out of every 3 internet users in Africa, is a youngster between the specified age group, it was noted.

“Though technology has greatly enriched the lives of a huge proportion of the global population, its rapid expansion is leading to a terrifying growth in online child sexual exploitation globally,” the AU quoted ITU’s report.

Offenders of online child sexual exploitation “are actively using the internet to access an infinite number of potential victims,” according to the AU. The meeting, which brought together child protection and law enforcement officials from all AU member countries, is expected to mobilize political and country commitment to address the challenge with the following expected outcomes, it was noted.

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