Interfaith Summit
Lt. General Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, attended part of the second day sessions of the global Interfaith Summit, which commenced on November 14 in the Vatican. Image Credit: Twitter

Vatican: Lt. General Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, attended part of the second day sessions of the global Interfaith Summit, which commenced on November 14 in the Vatican under the theme 'Promoting Digital Child Dignity from Concept to Action (2017-2019)'.

The Summit is organised under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, in the presence of Pope Francis, Head of the Catholic Church, and Dr Ahmad el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar Al Sharif.

The summit, which was attended by more than eighty international personalities, is a continuation of the global work in the fields of strengthening international efforts and unifying and benefiting from cross-border cooperation, including the document of "human brotherhood" signed by Pope Francis and Dr. Ahmed el-Tayeb in Abu Dhabi during February 2019 and announced to the world from the UAE capital Abu Dhabi

Sheikh Saif also attended part of a speech by Dr. Ahmad Al-Tayeb, who attended the summit as a guest of honour.

In his speech on the summit's first day, Pope Francis urged the international community to support human fraternity and such forums and conferences aimed at enhancing the protection of communities in all categories.

Pope Francis added that technology company executives and investors must be held accountable if they put profit before the protection of children, warning of the dangers that young people face when accessing the Internet and calling on digital companies to boost protective measures

"Companies that provide (internet) services have long considered themselves mere suppliers of technological platforms, neither legally nor morally responsible for the way they are used," Pope Francis said. "There is a need to ensure that investors and managers remain accountable, so that the goodness of minors and society is not sacrificed to profit."

"I make an urgent appeal to them to assume their responsibility towards minors, their integrity and their future," Pope Francis said, adding that "it will not be possible to guarantee the safety of minors in the digital world without the full involvement of companies in this sector and without a full awareness of the moral and social repercussions of their management and functioning."

This year, Britain's National Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children proposed that technology company directors be held legally accountable for child safety.

Pope Francis urged computer engineers to strengthen ways of using AI and algorithms to protect children on the internet. He said they should feel "personally responsible for building the future".

Dana Humaid, from the Interfaith Alliance, said: "I have been listening for years. Listening to speeches, listening to explanations, and listening to frustrations about why not enough is being done. Listening is good when we need to learn and understand. But once we learn and understand what's next?"

She explained: "Today I am hopeful that things will be different with this gathering. When the idea for this gathering started in February, we envisioned the creation of a platform for action and future practical collaborations. And that was why we insisted for this event on having representatives from all aspects of life - Faith, technology, policy making, civil society and financial institutions."

She added: "We first met in Rome in 2017 when the concept was realised, and it was further solidified in Abu Dhabi in 2018. And today we are at the Vatican to translate this concept into actionable solutions that we would stand behind and fulfill.

"Children of the world are facing complex challenges more than ever and sexual exploitation is one of the gravest. This atrocious crime has become one of the fastest growing illegal economies in some parts of the world. This is a crime that just does not impact our children. And unless we convert dialogue into action, this crime will only grow in scale and gravity. Victims are getting younger: more than 6,000 webpages with child abuse material analysed by the Internet Watch foundation had victims below the age of 2 years.

"Since the beginning, we at the interfaith alliance for safer communities have been aware that faith leaders are the first line of defense in many communities around the world. Often, while speaking with victims' families, we have seen that their local faith leader is the first person they would turn to in times of trouble. This made us think long and hard about how to mobilise faith leaders to be part of the solution to fight against online sexual exploitation of children."

Dana concluded by saying that "During the past two years, we have worked closely with grass-root faith leaders in India, Philippines, Egypt, Kenya, UAE and the Dominican Republic, to increase their awareness, understand the challenges they face, guide them on roles they can play effectively. We conducted a survey for participants at our workshops, covering 7 faiths and 29 nationalities from across the world. So, we have collaborated with great partners to create a toolkit they can use as guidance in dealing with sexual exploitation for children in their communities. We have used art and information through a traveling exposition to tell the story of children and enforce the importance of the role of all stakeholders, from faith leaders to policy makers, in five languages. We come today with the intention to not promise but to commit."

The Conference was concluded with the addresses of Najat Maalla M'jid, UN Secretary-General's Special Representative on Violence Against Children and of His Eminence Pietro Cardinal Parolin, Secretary of State of the Holy See.

At the end of the meeting, the organisers presented an action plan that includes a number of goals the organisers plan to achieve. The participants welcomed that document showing their willingness to cooperate. A joint statement was issued at the end of the conference.

The statement said: "On 6 October 2017 the attendees of the World Congress: Child Dignity in the Digital World presented the Declaration of Rome to Pope Francis. The Declaration concludes: "In this era of the internet the world faces unprecedented challenges if it is to preserve the rights and dignity of children and protect them from abuse and exploitation. These challenges require new thinking and approaches, heightened global awareness and inspired leadership.

"On 20 November 2018 leaders of the world's major faiths, meeting in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, adopted the Abu Dhabi Declaration, concluding that "protecting the dignity of children is a cause that will unify and mobilize people across countries, cultures and faiths." It urged them to "unite as faith leaders and join with people of all faiths to prevent harm to children and to promote children's physical, social, psychological and spiritual development. The two declarations shared a vision of a digital world where children and vulnerable adults are respected and free to exercise their digital rights and are safe from exploitation and abuse."

The joint statement said that the internet has changed our world, mostly for the better. But there is also a dark side which is harming the most vulnerable members of society. Children as young as infants and toddlers are now the targets of abuse for sophisticated online communities. "As children grow and inevitably encounter the digital world themselves, they confront challenges like cyberbullying, harassment and sextortion. Child sexual abuse images, whose production has exploded with the advent of digital cameras in every mobile phone or tablet in the world, proliferate online. Internet pornography, unrestricted and pervasive in the digital world, bombards the developing brains of children and young people."

The statement proposed a number of goals to be achieved:

"Goal 1: To raise awareness of digital risks and make prevention the top priority. We propose to undertake a global prevention and awareness campaign. This campaign will include education on the nature and severity of child sexual abuse and exploitation online, its economic and financial impacts, early intervention with potential offenders before they offend, utilize the public health model and focus on primary prevention.

Goal 2: To undertake new social research to provide better understanding of the scope and severity of child sexual abuse and exploitation online. We propose to convene a Research Task Force that will include some of the world's leading scholars and researchers in the field of child sexual abuse and exploitation to undertake foundational research on child sexual abuse and exploitation, both online and offline. In addition, this research will include an examination of the health impacts on young people of viewing pornographic and violent content online.

Goal 3: To foster the collaboration with technology companies. We propose to establish an Internet Industry Roundtable to discuss the role of technology companies, and possible new standards, and work together to develop new tools and technologies to attack these problems, to take the necessary steps to another type pf progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral.

Goal 4: To mobilise the world's great religions to launch a global movement to protect children online.

We propose to establish an Interfaith Roundtable to inform and engage members of every faith and launch a grassroots awareness campaign to enhance online child protection.

Goal 5: To promote exchange of experiences in the provision of child rescue and treatment services.

We propose to convene a Victim Services Round table that will include experts on the identification and treatment of victims to promote implementation of a victim-centric approach. A key element of this goal will be improving the recognition and identification of child victims, to ensure help for the massive numbers of hidden victims of abuse and exploitation in our Digital World.

Goal 6: To promote appropriate legislation and executive measures, encouraging the Authorities to act effectively, using appropriate legislation and executive measures to fully respect the rule of the law and due process, as well as encourage legislators to legislate laws appropriate to new digital, technological and social developments in order to counter criminal activities that harm children's lives and dignity."