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Church congress on child protection in digital world issues call to action

People attend the World Congress on Child Dignity at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, 3-6 Oct 2017.

VATICAN CITY – ‘The Declaration of Rome,’  the final document produced by participants at the World Congress hosted by the Pontifical Gregorian University on ‘Child Dignity in the Digital World’, issues an urgent call to action.

One hundred and forty participants from all continents gathered in Rome on 3-6 Oct 2017  for the first world congress focused on addressing the dangers children and adolescents face on the internet.

Organised by a UK-based global alliance called ‘WePROTECT’ and by ‘Telefono Azzurro,’  the first Italian helpline for children at risk, the congress drew delegates from countries across the world, including China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates.

Receiving participants at the event on Oct 6 in the Vatican, Pope Francis was handed ‘The Declaration of Rome’ by a young girl “on behalf of millions of young people around the world who need information and far more protection from the risks of sexual and other forms of abuse on the internet.”

“Using your own words,” she said to the Pope, “we believe that ‘A society can be judged by the way it treats its children’.”

While technology, she continued, has changed our lives in so many positive ways, it is also being used in the growing exploitation of children, millions of whom are being abused and exploited all over the world.

Explaining that increasingly extreme and dehumanising content is available at children’s fingertips, she said that some of the effects include cyberbullying, harassment and sextortion, while “online pornography is impacting the malleable minds of young children.”

Highlighting the right of all children to be protected, she called for unity and collaboration in seeking   “positive, empowering solutions for all.”

One of the main points of the document is the need for technology companies and governments to innovate to better protect children.

“This is a problem,” she said, “that cannot be solved by one nation or one company or one faith acting alone, it is a global problem that requires global solutions. It requires that we build awareness and that we mobilise action from every government, every faith, every company and every institution.”

“In this era of the internet the world faces unprecedented challenges if it is to preserve the rights and dignity of children and protect them from abuse and exploitation.  These challenges require new thinking and approaches, heightened global awareness and inspired leadership.  For this reason, this Declaration of Rome appeals to everyone to stand up for the protection of the dignity of children,” she concluded.

One of the participants at the Congress was Antoine Normand from Canada. Normand is the founder of BlueBear, a company that combats child pornography on the Internet thanks to the development of software which analyses and categorises image and video evidence files seized during child pornography investigations and that is used in collaboration with the Police.

Normand was at the audience with the Pope and sums up the content of “The Rome Declaration.” – vatican radio

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