Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation During a Pandemic – What to Look Out For and How to Keep Your Children Safe

Guest Blog by ProtectUsKids

Why has Online Child Sexual Exploitation (OCSE) increased during COVID-19?

Many youth are vulnerable to abuse and violence during the COVID-19 lockdown. Even more critical are those who reside within underrepresented populations. With unprecedented increases in online activity, as well as psychological and socio-economic risk factors at the individual, family, interpersonal and cultural level, COVID-19 has created a set of conditions that have made children more vulnerable to Online Child Sexual Exploitation (OCSE).

Compared to numbers at the same time last year, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) has seen an increase of 109% in reports of potential child exploitation to its CyberTipLine. That translates to 4.2 million reports in April 2020 compared to 2 million in March 2019.

As everyone spends more time at home, the demand for all types of digital content has exploded, meaning there is more to screen and moderate than ever before. As some tech companies, such as Facebook and YouTube have had to send content moderators home, they have become more reliant upon less reliable automated systems, allowing explicit content more time to spread on their platforms. One report suggests that despite the rapid increase of sexual exploitation content being uploaded, the amount being removed from platforms has decreased by up to 89% during the pandemic.

Amongst underrepresented communities, where youth can be even more susceptible, traffickers have taken advantage of the current economic and social situations by posting fake jobs and targeting educational websites and apps in order to gain information and access to an increasing number of children and young adults online. 

Indicators – What should parents look out for?

  • Comments on social media posts from people that your child doesn’t know such as, “I love you”, “I can make your life better”, “I’ll make you successful, and “I’ll protect you”. These are used to gain trust by predators. 
  • Invitations to meet up with someone your child has never met before, especially when encouraged to come alone. 
  • Pop-up ads, or scam alerts are often used to allow traffickers and predators access to a computer without the users knowing by clicking on the links. 
  • Websites and apps that require the location settings to be turned on can be used by predators to locate individuals accurately up to a few meters. Predators often request that potential victims share this information with them as part of gaining their trust. 
  • Emojis can be used to communicate information without being detected by scanners and moderators. Often, children have developed their own language that parents cannot interpret but predators can infiltrate and use against them, whilst remaining undetected. 

Tips – What can parents do?

  • Be aware of your child using any social media, gaming, education, or browsing apps. If they allow you to talk to another person, even for short periods of time, then it could be used to start a conversation between a predator and a victim. 
  • Open a healthy conversation between you and your child about staying safe online, not talking to strangers, and raising concerns about potentially dangerous situations. 
  • Keep privacy settings and firewall software turned on to their maximum levels on devices and apps that children use. 
  • Supervise your child when browsing the internet, even when all safety precautions are in place, or use trusted monitoring technology, such as Bark to help keep your child safe. 

About Protect Us Kids Foundation (PUK) 

Protect Us Kids Foundation is a non-profit that focuses on providing resources for youth within rural, underserved and marginalized populations globally; to include the development of critical targeted research of Online Child Sexual Exploitation (OCSE). Our goal is to not only bridge the digital divide by providing resources to protect youth online, but also leverage cyber research, intelligence, and analysis in an effort to provide relevant and impactful awareness that remains culturally sensitive to the global communities that we serve. 


Protect Us Kids Foundation (PUK) (866) 772-3354 

PUK YouTube Channel

  • Teen Talk video series, young adults helping each other through sharing experiences and tips for online safety. 
  • Online Child Safety Webinar with Lady Askari and Shehacks Kenya 

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC)
1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678)

Child Helpline International
+31 20 528 9625