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South Africa study on child internet use helps build global research partnership

04 Oct 2016
SA GKO launch

An innovative new research partnership is set to greatly expand the amount of in-depth, cross national data available on the opportunities and risks of child internet use across the globe.

The Global Kids Online project, a multi-country initiative led by UNICEF Innocenti and the London School of Economics, aims to create an international network of researchers and experts through provision of a research toolkit available online. The toolkit is designed to generate robust research to better understand children’s diverse digital experiences in various countries and contexts.

The initial phase of the project consists of rigorous, multi method studies on how children access and use the internet in Serbia, South Africa, Argentina and the Philippines.

Speaking at the launch of the South African Global Kids Online pilot study in Pretoria, Daniel Kardefelt-Winther, UNICEF Innocenti research coordinator said: “With 1 in 3 internet users being a child, it’s crucial that we establish an evidence base of what children do online and what impact the internet has on their lives. Global Kids Online does precisely this, with a focus on the developing world where child internet users in many countries outnumber adult users.”  

“The uniqueness of this research is in the fact that we asked questions both of parents and their children. This is powerful because we can match parent and child data and see how parents’ knowledge of the internet influences the child’s digital skills.

“We can also look at what parents’ attitudes to the internet are and see how this influences children’s opportunities to access. We can investigate whether parents’ knowledge of the internet influences what children do online and what risks they encounter.”

The findings from the South Africa Kids Online study indicate that one in three children have been exposed to hate speech and inappropriate content online. One in five children has also met face to face with a person they had first met with online although most respondents reported feeling fine about the meeting as most of them were of similar ages.  

Other South Africa findings reveal how most children value the internet for learning purposes, but rarely use the internet at school or receive guidance from their teachers on how to use the internet. Parents want to help their children but don’t feel they know enough about how to use the internet to guide them.

Anthony Nolan, UNICEF South Africa Chief of Child Protection shared why it was important to understand children’s digital experiences.

“Children and young people are leading the digital uptake in developing countries, but this also means that they are more likely to be exposed to negative online experiences,” he said.

“UNICEF believes that by understanding how children and young people are behaving in the digital space, they can be empowered to be responsible users.”

The South African Kids Online pilot study was conducted by the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention. The study will feed into the Global Kids Online research findings which will be published in a synthesis report by UNICEF Innocenti later this year.  

The South African Kids Online study interviewed 962 children, aged 9 to 17 years old, in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Gauteng regions about their internet use. Over 550 parents were interviewed in order to find out how they used the internet themselves and how they mediated their children’s internet use.

For more information on Global Kids Online visit here. To download the South African Kids Online pilot study, visit here. To learn more about UNICEF Innocenti’s work on child rights in the digital age visit here

(4 October 2016)