More than one hundred young people and experts throughout Europe have joined together to develop new youth-led responses to the surge in global online abuse, in the latest partnership project by European ECPAT partners. 

The project, entitled Make IT Safe, has provided a successful template of grassroots approaches to the immense challenges posed by offenders who ruthlessly exploit new technologies, including mobile phone apps, social media sites and the hidden recesses of the dark web, to abuse children.

Funded by the European Union Daphne Programme, the Make IT Safe Peer Experts project brought together more than 90 young leaders and 45 child protection experts to engage young people to become responsible digital citizens. Using a range of participatory tools – including films, panel discussions, debates and mobile apps – young people learned how to respond to online threats such as grooming, sexting, cyber-bullying and invasion of privacy, and promote online safety for children and young people.

“I did not know much at all. I did not use a computer in my country”, said one ECPAT UK Youth Group Peer Educator. “I have learnt a lot. I now use email and internet. I have WhatsApp on my phone and I know not to send bad pictures of myself.”

One unique output of the project is a specialist information tool for parents of migrant communities in Europe to help them support young people in the online world. The information leaflets and posters are available in 10 languages including, Bengali, Dutch, English, French, German, Hindi, Punjabi, Polish, Vietnamese and Urdu.

Ms Mechtild Maurer, Head of ECPAT Germany and Make It Safe Project Coordinator, said: “In this global fight to eliminate online child sexual exploitation and ensure children are protected, it is important to empower children, young people and their parents to become responsible digital citizens. Through training and development of peer experts, young people can learn to protect themselves and their peers against online abuse.”

Leading international experts supporting the project have said that children, young people, parents and carers, must be equipped with skills to stay safe online, particularly in an era when law enforcement will fail to bring to justice more than 250,000 offenders in the UK alone.

Ms Bharti Patel, CEO of ECPAT UK, said: “We are delighted to have participated in such an important initiative aimed at building young people’s resilience in the face of such daunting online threats. The foundation has been set, and it is our hope that the lessons from this project will be shared as widely as possible amongst young people in Europe to promote digital citizenship and build a safer online experience.”

A peer-to-peer training manual and website have been made available to help spread the vital learning developed throughout the project.