Twenty more countries added to benchmarking index on child sexual abuse “Out of the shadows”

On May 22, the World Childhood Foundation USA (WCF) announced the latest findings of ‘Out of the Shadows: Shining light on the response to child sexual abuse and exploitation.’ Combatting sexual violence against children requires a stronger and more targeted response from governments and businesses around the world, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Out of the Shadows Index. Developed with support from the World Childhood Foundation and Oak Foundation and with additional support from the Carlson Family Foundation, the Out of the Shadows Index measures how 60 countries are addressing sexual abuse and exploitation of children. The index, which focuses on policies, practices and standards, reveals that governments, the private sector and civil society can do more to protect children from sexual violence and to achieve Target 16.2 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, which calls for ending all forms of violence against children by 2030.

The index covers a comprehensive range of critical issues, including education and awareness- building, reproductive health, gender norms, victim support, law enforcement and child sexual abuse online. Index indicators also focus on the engagement of businesses in the technology and travel/tourism sectors in fighting child sexual abuse and exploitation.

Key findings from the Out of the Shadows study:

  • The top ten countries in the index are among the world’s richest, but only four score as high as 75 (out of 100), revealing substantial gaps in the protective conditions for children in even the wealthiest countries. The United Kingdom, Sweden and Australia hold the top three positions in the index. For the 60 countries, the average score is just 50.2. Complete rankings are available online at
  • Many countries have strong legal frameworks for protecting children from sexual abuse and exploitation, but most have not implemented policies or created effective institutions. The average score in the “Legal framework” category for all countries is nearly 60, but is just over 40 in the “Domestic commitment and capacity” category.
  • Industry engagement is needed to better protect children, especially against online child sexual abuse, where the expansion of broadband has placed more children at risk. Just 15 of the 60 countries have a leading mobile telecoms association that identifies sexual violence against children as a clear priority in its annual report or a code of conduct on its website.
  • Boys are overlooked. Nearly half of the 60 countries do not have legal protections for boys within their child rape laws, while only 19 countries collect prevalence data about sexual abuse of boys.
  • Combatting child sexual abuse and exploitation is becoming a greater priority on the global stage and in many individual countries, and research shows that progress is possible even when resources are limited.

“It is our hope that the Out of the Shadows Index will help spur collective action to prevent and address the global challenge of child sexual abuse and exploitation.  The index focuses on the response of the key stakeholders — governments, NGOs and the private sector –  and should help create impactful solutions. ” said Dr. Joanna Rubinstein, President and CEO of World Childhood Foundation USA and Commissioner of The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) UNESCO Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development.

“Based on the research findings of The Economist Intelligence Unit, these solutions should also address the new threats that children are exposed to online. All of the Index countries can do more to protect children and with the engagement of private industry, specifically the Information and Communications Technology sector, can play a vital role in protecting children from abuse.”

WCF’s technology-focused initiatives include engagement of the private sector, in particular the information and communication technology companies, and their use of technology to fight the universal problem of child sexual abuse. This includes the Stewards of Children Prevention Toolkit mobile app, which WCF USA developed in partnership with Darkness2Light and the global telecom company, Ericsson. The app helps to educate adults about how to reduce the risks and recognize the signs of abuse; how to talk to children and react to a suspicion or disclosure of abuse.

“How can one address a threat to children when it lives in the shadows? The answer is simply, we can’t. If we want to end the sexual exploitation of children, we must first build awareness and by so doing, ignite a sense of urgency that drives cross-sector partnerships focused on ensuring no child lives this reality,” said Wendy Nelson, Chair of the Carlson Family Foundation. “It is this fact that spurred The Carlson Family Foundation to join in partnership to develop the “Out of the Shadows Index’. The index is critical to bringing an end to the exploitation of children by spotlighting accountability in the system and uncovering opportunities for a shared commitment to every child’s safety.”

 Out of the Shadows Index Framework and Categories

This index benchmarks the context in which sexual violence against children is happening; the legal and institutional underpinnings in place to combat sexual violence; and how stakeholders are responding across 60 countries. Categories for the framework include:

  • Environment: The safety and stability of a country, the social protections available to families and children, and whether norms permit open discussion of the issue.
  • Legal framework: The degree to which a country provides legal or regulatory protections for children from sexual exploitation and abuse.
  • Government commitment and capacity: Whether governments invest in resources to equip institutions and personnel to respond appropriately, and to collect data to understand the scope of the problem.
  • Engagement of industry, civil society and media: The propensity for addressing risks to children at the industry and community levels, as well as providing support to victims.

Sexual violence against children is a universal threat—no boy or girl is immune. The emotional and health consequences linger, and the socioeconomic impacts can be devastating.

What can countries and companies do? Barriers and pathways to progress in fighting sexual violence against children are discussed in detail in the index report and data model, which are available online at

Text: Åsa Andreasson Åkerström, photo: private