Background to and rationale for the initiative

#Iamsafeonline is UNICEF Albania’s flagship child protection programme. It intends to understand the investigation challenges of online crimes against children in Albania.

Despite receiving between 5,000-20,000 referrals from international partners every year indicating possible production, distribution and utilisation of child indecent images, Albanian law enforcement managed to investigate only 12 cases in 2016-2018 with only one case successfully detected.

As UNICEF opened the dialogue with the Albanian State Police it became clear that the focus of the officers involved in cyber-crimes was primarily on illegal financial transactions and gambling. Even when evidence from other countries of child sexual abuse and exploitation online was presented, the police’s initial perceptions were that in Albania this type of crime was purely anecdotal.

The solution agreed upon through wide consultation was to bring on board an expert who already spoke the technical language of law enforcement and cyber-crime, and who was able to share this knowledge with the UNICEF team. This meant that when UNICEF sat at the table together with the cybercrime police everyone could finally understand each other. This was fundamental to UNICEF becoming a trusted ally of law enforcement by creating space for a more open and trusted dialogue.

Timeline and organisations involved

With support from the End Violence Fund, over six months in 2019, UNICEF coordinated face-to-face meetings, workshops and open lectures with key stakeholders involved in the investigation of cases of child sexual abuse and exploitation online, including the Albanian State Police, Office of General Prosecutor, and representatives of the judiciary and representatives of internet and telecommunication industries. During 2020, the findings validated by the partners were used by UNICEF to engage in strategic discussions with the office of the Tirana General Prosecutor and the Cybercrime unit of the Albanian State Police on the practical ways of addressing the key identified barriers.

Outcomes to be achieved/ already achieved

With the authorisation of the Albanian Ministry of the Interior, data was collected on the systemic, procedural and human capacity gaps of the Albanian law enforcement system in investigating the online crimes committed against children (focusing on child sexual abuse). This in-depth assessment aimed to unearth the root causes hampering an effective response by Albanian law enforcement, prosecution and judiciary to child sexual abuse and exploitation online. Preliminary findings were shared and discussed during three tailored workshops organised in the last quarter of 2019. These workshops gathered the key stakeholders involved in the investigation of cases of child sexual abuse and exploitation online, including law enforcement agencies and representatives of internet and telecommunication industries and focused on the identification of end-users through the IP address and related bottlenecks, prioritisation of indecent images of children, and categorisation of indecent images of children.

For the first time, the magnitude of the problem of child sexual abuse and exploitation happening online and involving Albania is thoroughly documented. Bottlenecks and recommendations related to the investigative processes and the process of digital forensic examination have been clearly articulated.

Challenges and/or opportunities encountered in carrying out the work

The collected data is sensitive because it can potentially be misinterpreted or misused for political advantage. However, in partnership with the government, UNICEF has facilitated the sharing of this data and information to stimulate open dialogue and enable evidence-based action by relevant stakeholders to protect children.

(Anticipated) Impact of the project

The EU Strategy on the rights of the Child explicitly refers to protection from all forms of child sexual abuse online and urges states to uphold commitments towards the Lanzarote Convention on Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse. Similarly, the July 2020 Communication from the European Commission focuses on the EU’s strategy for a more effective fight against child sexual abuse in both its online and offline forms.

In ongoing negotiations on EU integration, Albania now has an incredible opportunity to be ahead of the game by proactively putting in place measures to detect, investigate and prosecute child sexual abuse crimes. The project achievements, with support from the End Violence Fund, highlight the importance of evidence-based advocacy and programming to address online child sexual exploitation and abuse and the necessity of regional and international law enforcement collaboration. Strong collaboration with Europol and INTERPOL is key in continuing to strengthen Albania’s response to child sexual exploitation and abuse.