A Scottish research body which aims to tackle the sexual exploitation and abuse of children has been given a £20m funding boost.

A ten-year agreement has been struck for the Human Dignity Foundation to support the Childlight Global Child Safety Institute, based at the University of Edinburgh, which launched last year.

As well as publishing research on the nature and scale of the sexual exploitation and abuse of children, Childlight has provided technical advice and support to help law enforcement bodies around the world identify and arrest perpetrators and safeguard children.

Later this year it will establish the first of a network of global hubs, with a base at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, and the first global Masters in Science Degree in Child Protection Data Futures.

It will also soon publish the results of the world's first estimate of the global scale of the issue.

Childlight CEO Paul Stanfield said he was “deeply grateful” to the Human Dignity Foundation for the funding agreement and playing a crucial role in ensuring the sustainability of its efforts to combat some of the world’s darkest crimes, which have grown since Covid.

The Herald: The funding agreement being signedThe funding agreement being signed (Image: Martin Shields)

He said: “The sexual abuse and exploitation of children is a hidden pandemic happening on a staggering scale, from predators tricking and blackmailing young people over images through to the abuse of AI technology to generate deepfake images.

“But the fight to keep our young people safe and secure from harm has been hampered for too long by a lack of data to better understand the nature and scale of this crisis and better inform policy responses to tackle it. HDF’s financial support to help fill in the data gaps will supercharge our work to make a rapid difference for vulnerable children.”

Dr John Climax, chair and founder of the Human Dignity Foundation, said: “Whilst there are many gaps and questions still to be answered, it is clear that it is prevalent in every country, global in nature, and continues to grow exponentially.

“Childlight’s work in shining a light on this crisis is of vital importance because this is a serious global health emergency and must be treated as such.  As with all pandemics, such as Covid and AIDS, the world must come together and provide an immediate and comprehensive public health response. Children can’t wait.”

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In a joint statement, University of Edinburgh’s Principal, Professor Sir Peter Mathieson, and Provost, Professor Kim Graham, said: “We are delighted by the Human Dignity Foundation’s support for Childlight’s world-leading work to address one of the world’s major challenges as we collaborate to keep children safe from child sexual exploitation and abuse.

“We are grateful to colleagues in Moray House School of Education and Sport and our College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, including Professor Sarah Prescott, Professor Deborah Fry and Dr Samantha Fawkner, for their outstanding work ensuring the success of Childlight — a project which is a fantastic exemplar of the University of Edinburgh’s aim to attract the world’s best minds and build innovative global partnerships for research, teaching and impact.”