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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 27 June 2017

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motions, Topical Question Time, European Union Negotiations and Scotland’s Future, NHS Ayrshire and Arran Maternity Services (Review of Management of Adverse Events), Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill, Scottish Information Commissioner, Decision Time, Online Exploitation and Abuse of Children


Contents


Online Exploitation and Abuse of Children

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-05389, in the name of Gillian Martin, on not on my screen. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the concerns raised by people in Aberdeenshire East and around Scotland regarding the online exploitation and abuse of children; commends the efforts of the International Justice Mission (IJM) in highlighting child slavery and exploitation overseas; understands that this abuse is supported and enabled by online purchasers in western countries, including Scotland; commends Police Scotland and the National Crime Agency on their work with the IJM to identify and prosecute the buyers and enablers of online child abuse and cybersex trafficking, and further commends them for raising awareness of the problem at a national and international level in order to stop this abuse of children.

18:09  

Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

The book, “The Locust Effect”, has been sitting on my table for about two months. I knew that I had to read it, but I kept putting it off. I bought it the day after going to an event in Parliament about cybersex trafficking, which was run by the International Justice Mission. The book details how violence and injustice perpetuate poverty, and it is a tough but essential read. It is also a window into the incredible work of the International Justice Mission because it is written by the organisation’s founder, Gary Haugen.

Hearing about children in developing countries being subjected to abuse and rape on live internet streaming that is paid for by the west’s paedophiles makes me so angry—angry but powerless. I knew that “The Locust Effect” contained reports of cybersex trafficking and many other types of violence against the world’s poorest people. Those people get no justice from the courts and they get no protection from the police.

The first case that we read about details the horrific rape and murder of an eight-year-old Peruvian girl by a landlord who did not even bother to hide the evidence, because he knew that his lawyer would bribe the police to destroy it. In the end, the police pinned the child’s murder on another poor person—a boy with learning difficulties. They needed no evidence, because their word was enough. The real murderer was not even troubled by the police. Such things are endemic in developing countries.

I read the first chapter, but could not read any further for weeks. The scale of the injustice makes me feel impotent: the task of helping those people seems too great. But read on I did, and I emerged with hope, because the IJM is working hard to tackle such injustice.

Today’s members’ business debate cannot cover everything that the International Justice Mission does to help the poor of the world to combat violence and injustice—we would need a debate every evening for at least two weeks to do that—so it focuses on just one of its campaigns, which deals with one element of its fight against violent crime: the not on my screen campaign highlights cybersex trafficking of children.

I was able to walk away from that evening in Parliament of hearing about such crimes knowing that my kids are shielded from such horror. The poor children of the Philippines do not have that luxury—they are born into a life of violence and injustice. Children anywhere between the ages of one and 16 years old are subjected to abuse live on the internet for paying customers. Paedophiles in our country, in wider Europe, in the United States and beyond are perpetrating child abuse with credit cards. The Philippines authorities receive upwards of 6,000 reports of such crimes a month. That is just in one country; this is big business throughout Asia. As other developing countries get online, the problem is set to get far worse.

Those of us who attended the event in Parliament heard how kids are taken from villages, kept prisoner in flats in urban areas and forced by their captors to do the most upsetting things imaginable. Other kids are used by their families and family friends in their own homes to earn money from gangmasters. All that is needed is a mobile phone or a webcam and a frightened and coerced child. Even home is not a safe place for many children.

There is one thing that I cannot forget. Andrew Bevan, the International Justice Mission’s regional development executive in Scotland, told us that evening in Parliament that kids come in from playing in the streets at a time in their day when they know that Europe logs on of an evening. That is when demand arises. I cannot get that out of my mind: Europe logs on and the abuse starts thousands of miles away. That is where the power to end the practice lies: if we stop the purchase, we stop the practice.

The information is very hard to hear—believe me, I am having a great deal of difficulty talking about it—but there are people who are doing something about it, and it is their work to which I want to draw attention. The International Justice Mission works to rescue such children from their lives of abuse, and in this country it works with our law enforcement agencies to prosecute those who pay for that abuse and who, in doing so, commission acts that are so distressing that decent people can barely imagine them.

Although we in the United Kingdom have agencies such as the Internet Watch Foundation that are working terrifically hard with police forces across Scotland and Europe to take down websites with stored images, live streams are harder to detect, and the people who arrange them and those who pay for them operate in ways that make apprehending them extremely challenging.

Some members might mention some case studies of children who have been rescued by the International Justice Mission working with partners in various countries. The IJM’s success in helping children to escape such slavery—that is what it is—gives me hope. It is making a difference.

I also want to point out that not only children in developing countries are subjected to such abuse; it happens in Scotland, too. Last year, operation Latisse gathered over a six-week period evidence of more than 30 million indecent images of Scottish children, and the police have said that that is only the tip of the iceberg. As MSPs, that is something that we cannot ignore. No constituency in Scotland is free from it: every constituency has someone who is paying for abuse to happen to a child, either thousands of miles across the world or right on our doorstep. Anyway, it does not matter where the abuse is happening; it is happening because there is a market right here in Scotland, in the UK and in Europe.

The fight against child sex abuse is at the front of the Scottish Government’s national action plan on child sexual exploitation, and is happening through the national internet safety action plan that was launched in April 2017, but what more can we members do? To put it simply, we cannot shy away from talking about this dreadful phenomenon, as hard as it is for us all to talk about and listen to these terrible things. That is why I proposed the debate: we must continue to speak out and ask questions of our internet providers, some of whom do not do enough to shut down the streams. What about the payment exchange organisations? What are they doing to help the police to identify the criminals? We need to be asking them those questions.

We also need to empower and encourage our constituents to tell the police if they suspect that anyone they know is accessing such images or live streams, and we need to know enough to give them guidance on how they can do that anonymously. We must to ask our Governments what they are doing to assist law enforcement agencies in tracking down those who perpetrate the trade and, therefore, the abuse.

I urge members to pick up “The Locust Effect” and not to leave the issue behind them as they leave an event or sit down after a chamber debate. Let us keep attention on the issue and support the work of the International Justice Mission, and let us say very firmly, “Not on my screen.”

18:16  

Gordon Lindhurst (Lothian) (Con)

Let me begin by thanking Gillian Martin for bringing the debate to the chamber. She has expressed very eloquently something that is a difficult topic for any of us to speak about at all—let alone to do so in any detail. I also want to thank the International Justice Mission for the good work that it does worldwide in protecting vulnerable people and bringing criminals to justice.

The not on my screen campaign has been set up to try to counter a growing problem that spans today’s globalised technology-driven world. The expansion of access to the internet undoubtedly brings benefits to younger people that I would not even have been able to dream of when I was young. We should welcome the benefits that the internet brings, and we should do what we can to make sure that children across the world can share those benefits, but the internet also has a terrible dark side with which Governments are very much still learning how to deal.

The internet spans borders, which means that any action that is taken to tackle the more unfortunate consequences of internet access requires true global co-operation across borders. In the UK, although we have no reason for complacency, we have a reasonably good track record on identifying illegal content, shutting it down and pursuing justice for those who have suffered at the hands of that sort of terrible crime. The Internet Watch Foundation has reduced the prevalence of child sexual abuse content that is hosted in the UK from 18 per cent in 1996 to less than 1 per cent since 2003. It has a number of operational partnerships with police forces and Government agencies across the world, and it helps countries with lesser capability to remove unacceptable content.

However, as long as there continues to be demand—including, unfortunately, in this country—criminals will continue to be attracted to carrying out these horrific crimes. As the International Justice Mission’s briefing for today’s debate says, it can often be seen as a low-risk crime that is easy to carry out and with a potentially high financial reward. The not on my screen campaign contributes to an all-encompassing approach to tackling those crimes by tackling in the first place the demand for child abuse images. The keeping children safe online debate concluded that everyone has a role to play in keeping children safe online; the not on my screen campaign reaffirms that principle and encourages individuals to think about how their online behaviour and that of the people around them can have such devastating consequences for children, and calls on individuals to take a stand against the crime.

I hope that today’s debate will help to spread that message so that we can seek to use the tools that are available—tools such as the stop it now! Scotland project, which can provide help to people who are worried about their online behaviour before it becomes even more of a problem, as well as giving their friends, their families and the families of children who are at risk of abuse a mechanism through which to express their concerns to authorities. The scheme should continue to be fully funded and publicised as widely as possible so that concerning behaviour can be stopped early.

I would also like briefly to mention important work that is being funded by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and which is being undertaken by the University of Edinburgh to carry out research on deterrents to viewing indecent images of children.

To conclude, I say that I hope that we will all support the International Justice Mission campaign in the fight against online child sexual abuse. The internet is full of opportunities, but it must be kept safe for us all—especially for children.

18:21  

Kate Forbes (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) (SNP)

Across the world today, there are individual children with names and faces who are entirely in the hands of merciless abusers, and markets and demand here in Scotland are driving that trafficking across the world. Those who access such material online, through the internet, bear the responsibility for what they do.

Last week, we discussed the Scottish Government’s trafficking and exploitation strategy. Today, I thank Gillian Martin for bringing this debate to the Scottish Parliament. Today’s debate almost pushes it into an even darker place, if that is possible. Today, paedophiles and abusers anywhere in the world can exploit children, most of whom are under the age of 10. Those perpetrators of the abuse, who drive the market, are not people who stand out when we walk by them on the street, yet they are condoning abuse and facilitating and driving demand across the world.

On its website, the International Justice Mission has individual cases and stories of children who have been deceived and trafficked—for example, in the Philippines—and enslaved in apartments and exploited for a western audience. The traffickers are often local. They are often family members or friends, who benefit enormously from allowing those who are in their charge to be abused. Some 54 per cent of victims who are rescued by the IJM are between one and 12 years old. Last week, I spoke to the Internet Watch Foundation, which said that 2 per cent of the children in the child abuse cases that it has assessed were under two years old.

As Gillian Martin sketched out, the problem is violence. According to the United Nations, 4 billion people live outside the protection of the law. That means that they live outside the protection of public justice systems and that the police, the courts and the law do not protect them from violence. There is a lot of talk about poverty, but violence is the hidden crisis that is undermining our best global efforts to help the poor. We can all imagine what it would be like if we called the police at a time of need but no one responded, and if there was no way to get justice and we knew that violent criminals had no fear of retribution. That is captured very well in the book that Gillian Martin mentioned.

However, there is hope. The International Justice Mission is an organisation that brings hope, because it does not do what most of us do, which is just to discuss the issues. It actually goes into situations, searching day and night for individuals who are in need of rescue. The IJM supports teams of lawyers, investigators, social workers and community activists who work full time to rescue victims and bring perpetrators to justice.

The internet facilitates and lifts the hand of restriction on some of the worst excesses of human evil. It is important for us to get behind the IJM’s not on my screen campaign in order to educate individuals like ourselves about the level of abuse that is being generated by the western market and by Scotland. We need to encourage individuals to take a direct stand against such abuse and question the public’s behaviour and internet activities. Right now, there are children with faces and names who are at the mercy of the western market.

18:25  

Ash Denham (Edinburgh Eastern) (SNP)

I thank Gillian Martin for leading today’s members’ business debate on the not on my screen campaign, which brings to light the hard and daunting truth of cybersex trafficking, an epidemic that has enslaved countless children in developing countries to predators in the west, including here in the UK.

Whether it be on a computer screen or in a brothel, through a webcam or in person, sexual violence fuels human trafficking of all kinds, and we must remain aware and supportive of causes like not on my screen that are fighting for children who, in most cases, have no one else to fight for them, not even the law. That lawlessness is really the crux of the issue at hand. According to the United Nations, 4 billion people live outside the protection of the law.

The idea of living in a place where the justice system is broken is often lost on us. International Justice Mission founder Gary Haugen focuses on that in his important book “The Locust Effect”, which I have read; I encourage others to do the same. He says:

“Imagine what life would be like if you woke up every day with nothing shielding you from violence.”

Children are sexually abused, and westerners pay to see it on their computer screens, because those who control the children live where there are laws that are not enforced. Sexual violence wreaks havoc on what Haugen calls a plague against the global poor because they live where court systems are known not for justice, but corruption. Some of the poorest men, women and children in the world are abused, exploited and enslaved in plain view of police forces that perpetuate rather than prevent violence and crime.

As Haugen states in “The Locust Effect”:

“The most fundamental systems of law and order ... have been so useless for so long in much of the developing world that violent criminals preying upon the poor don’t give it a second thought”.

Indeed, the book features many disturbing accounts of victims of violence and crime who seek justice but are faced with barrier after barrier. In one example, victims of forced labour, violent beatings and rape in an Indian brick factory waited a very long six and a half years for a full trial. When the trial was finally held, with victims providing corroborating testimony about the crimes, the judge who heard the case was suddenly reassigned. Although he had time, he did not rule on the case. Instead, it was passed to a new judge who acquitted the defendants without listening to testimony or hearing any evidence. The victims were robbed of legal justice. The perpetrators walked free.

Unfortunately, such stories are all too common. In fact, many crimes never even make it in front of a judge. Haugen says that

“violence against women and girls in the developing world ... is against the law in nearly all the countries where it occurs. These laws, however, are simply not enforced”

and that

“Most acts of violence against women are never investigated, and perpetrators commit their crimes safe in the knowledge they will never face arrest, prosecution or punishment.”

International leaders agree that sexual violence is an epidemic that targets the poor. Haugen says in his book that

“Its threatening presence seems to be everywhere, all the time, showing no mercy”,

but there must be mercy through justice.

The scale of lawlessness in the world touches nearly half the global population, but through the work of organisations such as the International Justice Mission, which has a global team to rescue and protect millions across the world, progress is being made.

Projects such as the not on my screen campaign are highly successful. It has rescued almost 1,300 people from trafficking, and it has made a huge 75 per cent reduction in the number of children available for sex across three cities in the Philippines. With investment and training, it is entirely possible to turn criminal justice systems round. That work brings not only mercy and justice but, most important, hope.

If we want to fight poverty and we want development work to have real impact, we must recognise the devastation that the locusts of violence bring on societies. If we work together we can build the capacity that is needed to create and to run functioning criminal justice systems in order to give people the protection and the hope that they so desperately need.

18:30  

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

I, too, congratulate Gillian Martin on securing the debate and bringing this important topic to the chamber. Those of us who attended the International Justice Mission’s briefing on child sexual exploitation, not on my screen, could be nothing other than horrified at the extent of the terrible abuse.

Sexual exploitation in any guise is simply wrong. We are all human and we need to respect each other. Slavery was supposed to be outlawed more than 200 years ago yet, if anything, it is growing, with both adults and children being exploited.

The International Justice Mission told us how exploitation happens live over the internet, rather than through the distribution of images and films. Both involve the abuse of children, but some images are easier to find than a live broadcast. With live online abuse, the authorities know that a connection was made, but if the exploitation was not recorded, it is difficult to prove that and to prosecute users.

Last week, I met the Internet Watch Foundation, which traces and tracks child sexual exploitation. It reports websites from many countries, including our own, to the authorities in order that they can prosecute them and have that content removed. It is able to trace the use of images—some images are used over and over again—by tagging them. It knows who has viewed them—the foundation can prove it. It has those images removed from the internet using the same tagging system.

Children who have been exploited have had their lives damaged by the abuse, but it is so much more difficult for them to recover from that when they know that the images of their abuse are still circulating and being viewed by abusers the world over. The ability to tag images, to find them and to remove them helps to end that continuing abuse; it also ensures that all those who view those images are held accountable.

The Internet Watch Foundation, like the International Justice Mission, is alarmed at the use of Skype, FaceTime and other such apps and video-calling technology for the purpose of child sexual exploitation. That is horrific, and abusers cannot salve their consciences by telling themselves that the abuse was carried out by someone else and that they had simply tripped over the images as they surfed the net. Those acts of abuse are being carried out at the direct instigation of the viewer and the facilitator is usually a family member or friend or someone known to them who has groomed the children and coerced them. They, too, are guilty of that abuse.

Abusers believe that they are safe and that there is no record of the abuse. However, it is possible to prove that a connection was made if not the content of the call. They believe themselves to be safe from prosecution, because the content cannot be screened. They forget that there will always be a record of the call, that the child knows what happened on that call and that, most likely, so do many other people. Some will be involved in the exploitation, but it is likely that other children, who are also facing abuse, will be present and party to that event. Therefore, evidence for a prosecution can be gathered. Only by taking a zero-tolerance approach can we tackle that abuse.

We must recognise the link between child sexual exploitation and adult sexual exploitation. It was not a great shock to me that a disproportionately high number of paedophilia websites were hosted in the Netherlands, where adult sexual exploitation has been legalised. The exploitation of any human being is simply wrong, and where it is tolerated for adults it becomes less of a stretch for it to be tolerated for children. Therefore, countries that allow the exploitation of adults inadvertently become havens for those who would exploit children.

We need to ensure that no sexual exploitation is ever tolerated and, more than that, that it is tackled in all its forms in order to create a safe and equal society for all of us, most especially for our children.

18:34  

Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

I thank Gillian Martin for bringing this debate to the Parliament.

Like all my colleagues in the Parliament, I have attended many events since I was elected, all of which have been interesting and enlightening. The event that I attended earlier this year, which was hosted by Jenny Marra MSP, who I understand has done admirable work in the field of child sexual exploitation and cybersex trafficking, had a lasting effect on me. I found it powerful and disturbing, as I know that my colleagues did.

I came away thinking two things. First, I was shocked that this could be happening to children throughout the world, including in Scotland. Secondly, I was in awe of the amazing work that is being done by the International Justice Mission and by the specialist police officers in Police Scotland and the National Crime Agency who are dedicated to eradicating this horrible scourge. The officers who protect our children see things every day that no individual should ever have to witness, because this truly is the darker side of the internet and human nature.

Cybersex trafficking of children is a growing and devastating form of modern-day slavery, which was unimaginable before the digital age and involves the live streaming of sexual abuse of children, which is viewed over the internet. As Gillian Martin said in her powerful speech, the majority of victims who are abused and exploited are the poorest and most vulnerable.

The IJM partners with justice systems throughout the developing world to bring criminals to justice, restore survivors and strengthen justice systems. Its work is essential in preventing violence against vulnerable individuals throughout the world who have no other access to justice. In an effort to raise awareness, the IJM launched the not on my screen campaign.

This is not just an international issue. Scottish children are becoming the subjects of online abuse in increasing numbers. Last year, more than 30 million indecent images of Scottish children were uncovered online over a six-week period. I repeat that 30 million images were found—members should think about that—and that could be just the tip of the iceberg. Five hundred and twenty three children were identified as potential victims of abuse, and some victims were as young as three. Police crime statistics show that there is not one constituency in this Parliament where online child sexual exploitation is not an issue. It is here, on our doorsteps.

The not on my screen campaign aims to educate individuals about the alarming levels of abuse and encourage everyone to take a stand against it. The IJM is the largest anti-slavery organisation in the world. As internet access increases globally, victims can be exploited anywhere, including by someone with just a mobile phone.

In the Philippines, cybersex trafficking of children is growing exponentially, and Philippine authorities are receiving in excess of 6,000 referrals every month, many of which have connections to the UK. The trafficking is being driven by online users in western countries, including Scotland. IJM programmes around the world are currently protecting more than 21 million people from violence and slavery, 54 per cent of whom are aged between one and 12 years old.

It is important to remember that the perpetrators are often individuals that we would not pick out on the street. They could be sitting next to us on a train. They do not have “I am an abuser” tattooed on their foreheads. That is why we need public engagement to tackle the problem, through awareness and reporting in communities. Some of the most effective information that the police gather in online child sexual exploitation cases comes from reporting by friends and family, so it is vital that the public are engaged with the issue and that we all share the responsibility to fight abuse.

The IJM has recommended the establishment of a working group to consider what action to take regarding online CSE. The resourcing of a data fusion centre to address online CSE would be a step forward.

I urge members to add their voices to the campaign: they can tweet, using #NotOnMyScreen, to help to bring awareness to the issue.

We must protect innocent children from this horrific exploitation. That is our duty and responsibility, in the name of humanity.

18:38  

Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)

I congratulate Gillian Martin on securing this important debate.

I thought that it might be useful to set out what cybersex trafficking is, but I am sure that members here know that it is the live-streaming of exploitation of children, viewed over the internet. Paedophiles and predators anywhere in the world can search online and wire a secure payment to an adult who sets up the show. Boys and girls, some of whom are under two years old, are abused and forced to perform sexual acts in front of a webcam. The more abusive the show, the more the customer pays.

Bars and brothels have a permanent address, but cybersex trafficking victims can be moved and abused in any location where there is an internet connection and a webcam—or indeed a mobile phone, as we have heard.

Cybersex trafficking has become a terrifying cottage industry with high profit margins. It should go without saying that children should be able to grow up free from the horrors of sexual abuse, exploitation and trafficking but, sadly, that is not the case. As we become more digitised as a society and more of our day-to-day life is spent online, it is more important than ever that our Governments have the right safeguards in place to protect our children, young people and the most vulnerable in society from online exploitation.

Cybersex trafficking and the online abuse of children must be among the most abhorrent crimes imaginable. The IJM not on my screen campaign is vital in highlighting those dreadful crimes. As MSPs, we must recognise that they are going on, and we must ensure that our police and intelligence services do everything possible to shut down the websites involved. We have the tools to do so and to bring the full weight of the law against the people who take part in those disgusting crimes.

Governments in the UK and Scotland are taking action on that important issue. In February, the Home Secretary announced the delivery of a £40 million package of Government measures to protect children and young people from sexual abuse, exploitation and trafficking and to crack down on offenders. It includes the launch of a new centre of expertise on child sexual abuse, an extra £20 million for the National Crime Agency to tackle online child sexual exploitation, £2.2 million for organisations that work to protect children who are at risk of trafficking and the launch of independent child trafficking advocates.

The internet is a wonderful resource but, sadly, it has its dark side. IJM highlights the crimes that are committed against children. It is not easy reading but we must not shy away from it. Cybersex trafficking is a rapidly growing problem as internet access increases worldwide. It is not an easy crime to tackle, and it is often seen as low risk and easy to do. I totally support the IJM’s aim of educating individuals on the alarming levels of abuse that are being generated by the western market, including in Scotland, and encourage people to take a direct stand against this disgusting abuse.

It is incumbent on us to work together as legislators to ensure that every step is taken to protect our young children online. When Governments suggest that there should be more access to people’s internet logs, there is often an outcry about breaching human rights. Perhaps, in demanding human rights, we are abusing the rights of children who get abused. We need to consider carefully how privacy and encryption methods are now used and can make it more difficult for the perpetrators to be caught.

I and my Conservative colleagues commit to doing as much as we can to ensure that the internet can be harnessed by everybody for the incredible tool that it is and not abused by a few in the sickening crimes that are highlighted by the not on my screen campaign.

18:43  

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

I congratulate Gillian Martin on bringing this important topic to us today.

I thank the people who helped to brief me. Barrister Annabelle Turner came to see me yesterday and briefed me on behalf of the International Justice Mission. It is worth having a wee think about what the IJM is about. Ms Turner is one of many professionally qualified people who work for the organisation and provide services to it entirely pro bono—without any financial benefit accruing to them. It is indicative of a caring society that people are prepared to do that, but the subject is one that properly motivates people to do their very best to deal with it.

Cybersex trafficking is not an easy subject to discuss. The people who are involved are very nasty people indeed. Until comparatively recent times, I had in my constituency Peterhead prison, which was Scotland’s serious sex offenders prison. Sex offenders who were sentenced to four years or more in prison were sent there. There were 300 or so of them and they were, in essence, cut off from friends, family and people elsewhere.

It is worth having a little think about the people who are in that prison. They are quite a different kind of criminal from the one that we would meet if we went to Saughton or Barlinnie. They are much cleverer, much more socially competent and much more convincing. They are able to use their social skills, knowledge and expertise to perpetrate their foul crimes. They are able to suck in other people to protect them and to create a cocoon around their offending behaviours. I know of one sex offender who was in Peterhead prison whose parents were so convinced of their son’s innocence that, before the police arrived at a particular locus, they were cleaning the blood off the walls and repainting rooms. We would have thought of those parents as being the most upright members of society, but they had been caught by the duplicity of a criminal who was involved in sexual abuse—albeit that it was not online in that particular case.

We have heard references, most recently from Finlay Carson, to technical measures that we might take, such as getting ISPs—all our traffic goes through internet service providers—to look at the traffic that is going through and to detect what is happening. The honest and unfortunate truth, however, is that that would simply not work. If someone encrypts what is going through, we do not know what is in the encrypted package. Yet encryption is an important part of protecting certain kinds of data on the internet, so we cannot ban it on the internet. That is simply not possible.

I suspect that we will go back to the Al Capone approach. Al Capone was a gangster in Chicago, which was a very corrupt city, for some seven years until, in 1931, it was concluded that the only way to get him was through the fact that he had not been paying his tax bills on his ill-gotten gains. The one way in which we might be able to make some progress is by tracking the money and where it is going, because it is difficult to transmit money without a mechanism for doing so. There is not time to go into the issue of bitcoin and the chains that go with it, but, even there, it should be possible.

I, too, very much respect what is being done by the Internet Watch Foundation in taking down sites, but we must go right back to the genesis of the sites and make it economically unviable for people to run them. Last week, I met Kristof Claesen from the IWF, as did others, and I was very interested in what he had to say.

I have no magic solution. None of us here does. However, having a debate such as this at least alerts us to the problem, and that is a good start. I commend Gillian Martin for bringing the issue to our attention and allowing us to explore this important topic.

18:47  

The Minister for Childcare and Early Years (Mark McDonald)

As others have done, I congratulate my friend Gillian Martin on bringing this important debate to the chamber. Gillian struck a note of caution in her speech when she said that this was a very hard issue for her to discuss in the chamber. I do not think that any of us should ever feel in any way apologetic for that. The fact that we find this subject difficult is essentially a reaffirmation of our humanity, in that it creates that sense of revulsion that makes it difficult for us to speak about these issues. However, speak about them we must, and therefore bringing the debate to the chamber is exceptionally important.

As a number of members have pointed out this evening, speaking about this issue—the mere fact of talking about it—is not, in and of itself, enough. We have to take appropriate actions where and when we can. I will try to touch on some of the areas in which the Scottish Government is taking action within the powers and remit that we have available to us.

We stand supportive of the work of the International Justice Mission and the Internet Watch Foundation, which have been mentioned, to try and eradicate child sexual exploitation and the abuse of children that is often perpetrated and perpetuated as a consequence of the digital world in which we now live.

Many members touched on the challenges that are faced as a consequence of the internet, and on the balance between the positive impact that the internet has had in making it much easier for us to experience connectivity across the world—Gordon Lindhurst touched on that point—and the dark side that is often created as a consequence. The internet makes it much easier for those with bad intention to make those connections, too, without ever having to come into physical contact with one another.

As almost all members said, although individuals may feel that the crime that they are committing does not have a victim because of the lack of physical proximity, there are victims. Rhoda Grant made the important point that the crime is not without evidence. Stewart Stevenson rightly touched on some of the challenges that can be faced in tracking internet use and the connections that are made, but he also made the important point that if one follows the money, often that can be the means by which to catch those who perpetrate these offences.

Here in Scotland we take a very strong approach to trying to support individuals who find themselves being exploited. Gillian Martin made the important point that although much of what has been spoken about by the International Justice Mission and members in the debate focused on children in other parts of the world who find themselves being abused for the gratification of a western audience, we must not forget that there are examples—such as those that were highlighted by operation Latisse—of children in our midst who are being abused over the internet. That abuse must be cracked down on, which is why I was grateful to see Police Scotland’s operation Latisse targeting individuals who are responsible for sharing those images online and creating some of that material here in Scotland.

Our approach to human trafficking and exploitation is based on the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015, which introduced a single offence that covers the trafficking of adults and children for all forms of exploitation. In March 2016, we published an update of the “National Action Plan to Prevent and Tackle Child Sexual Exploitation”, which set out a range of actions to meet agreed outcomes to tackle that form of sexual abuse.

As has been highlighted, on 30 May we published the first human trafficking and exploitation strategy, setting out how we can get better at identifying and supporting victims, identifying perpetrators and disrupting their activity, and raising awareness across the board. The strategy makes clear that support and protection for child victims of trafficking in Scotland should be provided within the context of Scotland’s child protection system and the national getting it right for every child approach to improving outcomes for children and young people.

The Scottish Government has funded the stop it now! Scotland project to develop and test a prevention toolkit that can be used to help people to prevent child sexual abuse before it occurs. We are also providing Sacro with funding for its challenging harmful online images and child exploitation—CHOICE—programme, which is a pilot programme suitable for those downloading illegal images of children from the internet where there is a low risk of sexual harm and the offences are non-contact in nature. The programme is aimed at males aged 18 and over who may be considered suitable to be diverted from prosecution, or who are subject to a structured deferred sentence, community payback order or other community order or licence. We will engage with the University of Edinburgh and stop it now! Scotland as they undertake research on deterrents to viewing online indecent images of children. That is one of the important points that we need to focus on.

We absolutely want to ensure that the individuals who perpetrate the offences are caught and brought to justice. Ash Denham highlighted some of the challenges that we face in doing that and in relation to the way in which justice can be delivered in other countries. It is not for me to talk about how other countries should run their justice systems, but there is a concern about children who are subject to this exploitation. Kate Forbes highlighted some of the numbers of those who are identified as living outside the protection of the law. We need to take a very strong line that those children should, first, be believed, and, secondly, have access to justice.

However, I recognise that that in itself will not be enough. We must ensure that we also do everything that we can to restrict and reduce the demand that exists for such images. If we turn off the demand, we restrict the supply and we make it less likely that children will be abused, because the demand for the images will simply not be there.

I recognise that, in Scotland, we are talking about only a small number of the global total of individuals who download and access those images, but we have a part to play. Alongside our partners, the Scottish Government stands ready to do all that we can to ensure that the demand and the supply of the images are tackled at source.

Meeting closed at 18:55.