Rome, Italy, May 31, 2017 / 11:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- An international congress in Rome this autumn will bring together experts to focus on the problem of online sexual abuse of minors and how to better safeguard children on the internet. The Oct. 3-6 meeting is hosted by the Pontifical Gregorian University’s Center for Child Protection and will conclude in an audience with Pope Francis during which he will be presented a “Declaration on Child Dignity in the Digital World.”

According to a May 31 statement, there are 3.2 billion internet users worldwide, children making up over one quarter of these — about 800 million users. These children and adolescents “are vulnerable to entirely new forms of harm and abuse such as trolling, cyberbullying, sextortion, and grooming for sexual exploitation.”

The international congress “will focus on the latest scientific research and technical understanding in this field, bringing together global experts and decision makers to discuss the risks and challenges of the digital age and its impact on the dignity of children.” The invitation-only meeting intends to bring in more than 140 academic experts, leaders in business and civil society, high-level politicians, and religious representatives recognized around the globe. The four days will include keynotes, plenary sessions, workshops, and a discussion forum focusing on the fields of cyber protection, cyber education, and cyber responsibility.

Afterward, the conference will issue a “Call for Papers” with the hope to stimulate innovative research and solutions to the problem of child protection online. The congress is organized in partnership with WePROTECT Global Alliance, a movement dedicated to changing the handling of online child sexual exploitation around the world, and Telefono Azzurro, a non-profit whose purpose is the protection of minors from abuse and violence.

Fr. Hans Zollner, SJ, president of the CCP and a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, said in a statement that “the congress provides an outstanding opportunity to exchange knowledge and good practice on risks and prevention as children navigate this new digital world.” Ernesto Caffo, the scientific coordinator of the congress, added that they “are proud to bring together many of the world's leading scholars and researchers in the field of child victimization.”

Their goal for the conference being to “substantially expand the body of knowledge on these complex issues and generate true global dialogue.” UK Minister for Internet Safety and Security Joanna Shields said that while our increasingly connected society greatly empowers children, it “also exposes them to risks that compromise their safety and wellbeing.” “To address these escalating global threats we need a broad coalition of government, faith leaders, academia and industry, all committed to protecting the dignity of children in this digital age.”

The congress follows a day-long seminar held March 23 on the prevention of child abuse, hosted by the CCP and the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. The seminar narrowed in on the importance of education in schools and parishes in the safeguarding of children — not only for teachers, but for parents and children — and on the Church's role.