sophie-wessex-belgium

The Countess of Wessex's secret trip abroad as she makes heartfelt statement

Sophie became patron of the NSPCC in 2016

The Countess of Wessex travelled to Belgium on Tuesday to deliver a powerful keynote speech about making the internet a safer place for children and young people.

In her role as patron of the NSPCC, Sophie spoke at a European Parliament Intergroup on Children's Rights event in Brussels.

The Countess urged tech firms and politicians to rededicate their efforts to "ensure that the internet is a place of safety for all".

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WATCH: Countess Sophie urges tech firms to "ensure the internet is a place of safety for all"

Sophie shared the harrowing story of a 14-year-old boy who tried to take his own life after being blackmailed into sending explicit images of himself, or his parents would be killed.

She also described how a 13-year-old girl was groomed over social media into a five-year online relationship with a married man in his thirties, who manipulated her into sharing explicit photos.

The Countess delivered a keynote speech in Brussels

Speaking about her visit to Belgium's Child Focus, which works to protect children both physically and online, the Countess said she had seen "persistent evidence that young people are being abused and are suffering unimaginable mental anguish and terror online".

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The royal mother-of-two also highlighted that the pandemic had led to a greater rise in online child exploitation and abuse.

"I am profoundly sorry to say that we are simply not protecting or preparing our children to use this transnational and virtual space," Sophie said. "But, let us recognise that this is a challenge we can solve and we can and must look to give children the safe and happy environment they deserve."

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Sophie attended a film premiere in aid of the NSPCC in February 2020

The Queen's daughter-in-law called on tech firms to use innovation to take every reasonable step to "design out" harm and detect and report abuse on messaging services.

"Children should be front of mind during this process and never an afterthought," Sophie said.

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Sir Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, said: "The Countess's speech today was a timely and crucial contribution about the need for bold action and international coordination in the urgent fight against online child abuse.

"This is a challenge that can be solved, if governments and the tech industry commit the focus and resources required to meet the scale of the threat."

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