LONDON: Europe overtook North America last year as the world’s biggest host of websites containing child sexual abuse images, according to a study by a British internet watchdog group published on Monday.

Europe as a whole, including Russia and Turkey, accounted for 60 per cent of such sites, a 19 percentage point increase from 2015, the UK-based Internet Watch Foundation’s annual report said.

North America hosted 37 per cent of the world’s child pornography websites, down from 57 per cent in 2015.

The study found the highest number — 20,972, or 37 per cent of the total — were in the Netherlands, followed by the United States with 12,492 (22 per cent), Canada with 8,803 (15 per cent), France with 6,099 (11 per cent) and Russia with 4,176 (7 per cent).

“The global picture isn’t good,” IWF’s chief executive Susie Hargreaves said in a statement.

“Internet companies and large businesses who are doing nothing, or too little, to address online child sexual abuse imagery need to step up and work with us,” she said.

While the study noted advances in tracking technology to identify criminals online, it said that the number of reports it received had nearly doubled to 8.2 million in 2016 from 4.4 million in 2015.

The organisation, an alliance of tech companies and law enforcement based in Cambridge in England, also said that new website domains being released into the marketplace were being used to host these images.

It found a 258-per cent increase in the purchase and abuse of new domains compared to 2015, as well as an increase in “masking techniques” used by criminals to hide abuse images and videos on the internet.