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Tackling Online Sexual Exploitation, Child Marriage & FGM in Africa: The 2023 Africa Regional Consultation

The Regional Consultation of Child Helplines in Africa, co-hosted by Child Helpline International and Childline Botswana took place on 28-30 November 2023. I’m excited to share insights from three sessions that took place at the Regional Consultation, namely: ending child, early, and forced marriages (ECFM), online child sexual exploitation and abuse (OCSEA), plus a compelling presentation on efforts to eradicate Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) by the Orchid Project.

Participating in this Regional Consultation was a true pleasure. There was an undeniable sense of community and excitement in coming together to re-connect and exchange insights, experiences, and learnings. It’s been a powerful reminder of the collective strength of the network, and I always look forward to the opportunity to contribute and absorb so much wisdom. 

The speakers and panelists at the Regional Consultation

Ending Child, Early & Forced Marriages – panel discussion

The panel kicked off with a robust discussion on addressing child marriages across Africa. From combating cultural traditions in Madagascar to creating child-friendly budgets in Botswana, the panelists emphasized the need for collaboration, long-term interventions and innovative strategies. 

Key takeaways: 

  • Importance of tools for monitoring and evaluation to track progress over time. 
  • Engaging communities and speaking the language of children for effective communication. 
  • Coordination among NGOs and involving various stakeholders to support survivors. 
  • Launching new strategies, such as community dialogues, to address cultural norms leading to child marriage. 

Online Child Sexual Exploitation & Abuse – panel discussion

Addressing the dark reality of online child sexual exploitation and abuse, this panel delved into the challenges of collecting data, preserving evidence, and the necessity for national action plans and policies. From engaging internet service providers to the impact on children’s education, the conversation echoed the need for precise terminology. 

Key takeaways: 

  • Child-friendly reporting and empowering children and teachers in schools. 
  • Importance of collaboration with global organizations, such as the International Watch Foundation (IWF) whose hotlines and reporting portals can take down child sexual abuse materials (CSAM) from the internet. 
  • Engaging internet service providers for safer online spaces and pushing child helplines into tech summits. 
  • Personalizing communication with companies, emphasizing the real lives at risk. 
  • Working on underreporting with organizations such as UNICEF and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). 
Macharia Karanja, The Orchid Project

Female Genital Mutilation – presentation by the Orchid Project

Macharia from Orchid Project shed light on the global fight against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). From distinguishing between cutting and mutilation to the need for gender transformative approaches, the presentation addressed the intricate challenges faced in legislating against FGM. 

Key takeaways: 

  • The different types of FGM practices and worldwide prevalence. 
  • Debunking perceived benefits of FGM, including social acceptance and supposed religious approval. 
  • The importance of gender transformative approaches and involving boys in the conversation. 
  • Strategies focusing on offline empowerment, evidence generation, and supporting survivors. 
  • The necessity of partnerships and long-term collaboration for effective programming, knowledge sharing, and global advocacy. 

The Regional Consultation sparked thought-provoking conversations, highlighting the complexities and urgent need for collective action – all three of these themes are concretized in a joint plan of action between Child Helpline International and the African Union.

Laura Holliday
Learning Coordinator