The majority of online child sexual abuse material is hosted in the Netherlands, where greater internet freedoms have made the country a hub for illegal websites, figures show.
The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) has said that 90 per cent of URLs for child abuse content are in Europe, the majority in the Netherlands. The material is made all over the world but held on computer servers in the Netherlands.
In Britain the IWF is responsible for identifying and removing such content from the internet. The watchdog’s annual report found that hundreds of babies were subjected to the worst abuse.
Eighty-nine per cent of images analysed last year were hosted in Europe, with 71 per cent of the images around the world hosted in the Netherlands, followed by Slovakia (6 per cent) and the US (5 per cent). Fewer than 1 per cent of images were hosted in the UK.
Susie Hargreaves, IWF’s chief executive, said: “It is not necessarily that the Netherlands is a bad country. The big issue is that they don’t take it down, it’s tied into digital freedoms and digital rights, and the fact you have to get a court order to take it down — that’s tens of thousands of trips to court. We also have an absolutely zero-tolerance attitude to it in the UK.
“They [the Netherlands] recognise they have a major issue and will do what they can to revise the legislation. I am confident something will happen but it needs to happen quickly.
“If every country stood up to it like we did in the UK, it would have nowhere to go.”
Of the images flagged by the IWF last year, 63,533 (48 per cent) were found to contain children aged 11 to 13, and 45,744 contained children who were seven to ten years old.
Some 1,609 images last year featured babies and toddlers under the age of two, and 71 per cent of those contained the most serious level of abuse, category A, depicting rape or sexual torture. Similarly, 41 per cent of images of children aged three to six years old were in this category.
Overall, about one in five of the total images (27,005) across all age ranges was deemed to be in category A, up from 23,879 the previous year. The data also showed that 92 per cent of all images featured girls, with a further 3 per cent containing boys and girls.
Almost a third (29 per cent) of web pages taken down by the IWF contained self-generated imagery — content created using webcams and shared online, often after children have been groomed.
Seventy-six per cent of these images showed a girl aged 11 to 13 — something that the IWF said was at risk of increasing during lockdowns where children are likely to be spending more time in their bedrooms on computers.
The report’s publication comes after Britain’s National Crime Agency reported that 300,000 paedophiles were sharing sexual images or abusing children on the dark web — nearly four times previous estimates.
Ms Hargreaves said: “Those children are so young, they’re so vulnerable to being coerced and tricked into sharing sexual images and engaging in sexual activities on webcams, and they don’t have the emotional wherewithal to know they are being exploited.
“By the time that is videoed and recorded it is on a child sexual abuse website, which is where we see it. It’s a sad fact that the younger the child, the worse the level of abuse.”