search advanced search
UNICEF Innocenti
Office of Research-Innocenti
search menu

Global research partnership on child internet use expands

GKO partnership expanding 16-year-old Charmela loads credit to her mobile phone, in her home off the northwest coast of Madagascar. A school drop-out and too young to work, she spends a lot of time on the Internet.

(14 February 2017) Important new findings from the Global Kids Online (GKO) research partnership for Bulgaria have recently been made public, while researchers in Chile have just finished nation-wide data collection and are preparing to launch their report in April. In parallel, two new GKO programmes have been initiated in Ghana and the Philippines, where the teams are currently preparing for nationally representative data collection utilizing the GKO research toolkit.

Jasmina Byrne, child protection specialist at UNICEF Innocenti and one of the principal investigators on the project explained how evidence on child internet use could have positive policy implications.

“Rigorous evidence on children’s internet use can help international and national policy makers develop balanced and informed policy choices that take account of both opportunities and risks. We are delighted to see more countries come on board with the research partnership.”

The latest evidence produced by the GKO partnership is based on a national representative survey of 1,000 children in Bulgaria aged 9 to 17 years old and their parents. The findings reveal that children who are deeply exposed to internet use and have a high level of technical digital skill do not always use the full range of online opportunities, and they do not always respond proactively to upsetting online content. Children are accessing the internet on their own at ever younger ages, often unsupervised, raising important questions about the balance between online risks and opportunities and children’s online safety.

Findings from Bulgaria show how the average age of first internet use has dropped to 8 years old over the past 6 years. More than 90 per cent use the internet daily and 80 per cent of these children spend at least one hour online per day. 

“Today’s Bulgarian children are real digital natives. Most of them use internet and mobile communications almost all the time and often have digital skills superior to those of their parents,” said Georgi Apostolov, coordinator of the Bulgarian Safer Internet Centre which carried out the survey.

“This is probably the main reason why parents seems to have reduced the supervision and mediation compared to 6 years ago. However, children start using internet at an earlier age, so they need more mediation in order to develop the necessary social and media skills that will allow them to benefit from the opportunities the internet provides.”

Bulgaria becomes the latest country to join the Global Kids Online research partnership, a project that aims to build a global network of researchers and experts in order to generate and sustain cross national evidence on the opportunities and risks of child internet use. Pilot studies utilising the toolkit among children aged 9 – 17 were originally conducted in  Argentina, the  PhilippinesSerbia and  South Africa (an overview of key findings from the pilot study can be read here.) Since then, the project has expanded to countries including Montenegro, Ghana and Chile.

The GKO pilot study released in late 2016 also found that on average 8 in 10 children accessed the internet via smartphones. More internet access comes with higher exposure to online risk and the safety of children online depends on their digital skills. Better skills also allow children to take more advantage of the opportunities that the internet affords them.

A majority of children also report learning new skills online. Around 70 per cent of Bulgarian children report that they learn new things from the Internet every week and almost all of them (96 per cent) agree that the internet offers a lot of useful things for children their age. Half of all children use the internet for schoolwork and 45 per cent to look for news online. Child searches for health information are rare, even among older teenagers. In fact, children in Bulgaria use the internet most often for leisure and entertainment activities, such as watching videos (89 per cent), listening to music (86 per cent), and visiting social networking sites (73 per cent). Playing games and posting pictures and comments are also popular.

While children in Bulgaria use the internet to create content rather rarely, they seem competent internet users. Most know how to save a photo they found online (86 per cent), find it easy to choose terms for their online searches (78 per cent), or how to install an app (77 per cent) and check mobile app prices (67 per cent). They are also able to access their information from various devices they use (70 per cent) and know how to change the privacy settings of their online profiles (73 per cent).

The increased use of the internet, however, has created more exposure to risk, especially for older children. Over the past year, 15 per cent of children in Bulgaria have experienced something online that bothered or upset them compared to 9 per cent in 2010. About one third of all survey participants have seen online pornographic content, which was upsetting for almost half of these children. A third of the children have encountered online hate speech or seen violent online materials, including images and videos of murders and executions, which was exceptionally or very upsetting for nearly half of the children.

Most children talk to family and friends when they experience something negative online but nearly one in 5 children do not speak to anybody. Parents and carers are the main source of support (70 per cent of children turn to them), followed by friends (36 per cent) and siblings (12 per cent). Teachers or other professionals are very rarely sought for support in such cases (respectively 4 and 1 per cent respectively).

In addition, a significant number of children (18 per cent) do not talk to anybody and this proportion has increased considerably since 2010 (4 per cent).

For more information, visit Join the conversation on social media at #GlobalKidsOnline. 

Related Articles

Global Kids Online research partnership is launched; research synthesis on child internet use published
Article Article

Global Kids Online research partnership is launched; research synthesis on child internet use published

(2 November 2016) Today UNICEF Innocenti and the London School of Economics launch the Global Kids Online (GKO) research partnership at the Child Lives in the Digital Age seminar at UNICEF headquarters. We have published executive summary of the study which captures new findings on the opportunities and risks for children from pilot studies using the GKO approach in Argentina, the Philippines, Serbia and South Africa.An engaging short video brings to life the growing impact of the internet in the lives of young people in GKO research pilot site in Eastern Cape, South Africa.A new UNICEF Connect blog: “The Internet of opportunities: what children say” has been posted by Jasmina Byrne and Daniel Kardefelt-Winther.The GKO research toolkit makes robust, pilot tested, adaptable research tools and guidelines freely available on to promote improved evidence on children’s use of the internet in any country or context. The full text of the research synthesis report can be downloaded on the GKO website.
Council of Europe Parliamentarians discuss measures against online child sexual abuse
Article Article

Council of Europe Parliamentarians discuss measures against online child sexual abuse

(6 December 2016) UNICEF Innocenti has hosted a major meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) where combatting online child sexual abuse was a major topic of discussion.The meeting, held in Florence on 1 December, brought together the PACE Network of contact parliamentarians from up to 16 countries together with representatives of UNICEF Innocenti, INTERPOL, Middlesex University and ECPAT International, among others.Members adopted the Florence Declaration which underlined the need for sound legislative frameworks based on the Lanzarote Convention to protect children from new forms of sexual abuse in the digital environment. The Lanzarote Convention commits 42 signatory countries in Europe and beyond to criminalization of all forms of sexual offences against children, and specifies adoption of legislation to prevent sexual violence and prosecute perpetrators. New forms of online child sexual abuse addressed in the meeting included: live streaming, self-generated images by children, online grooming and virtual reality. The ‘dark web’ was also cited as a part of the internet increasingly being used to share child sexual content online. The Declaration also recognised the need to support victims of child sexual abuse. “Online, children can encounter abuse and exploitation from peers and adults alike. Exposure to harmful material and violation of privacy are ever present concerns,” said Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe.“It is the responsibility of all of us to meet these challenges in a manner which is strategic, cooperative and has a firm grounding in human rights.”Cecile Diot, criminal intelligence officer at INTERPOL called for a multi-disciplinary approach to tackling the issue and told parliamentarians it was crucial for NGO’s, private companies and civil society to work ever more closely to overcome the problem. It was estimated 80 per cent of content on the so-called dark web was related to child sexual abuse, she said. ”Altogether we may have a chance to defeat this criminality. We need a network to defeat a network,” said Ms. Diot.  Talks also focused on supporting parents, families and caregivers in protecting and empowering children against sexual violence in the digital environment, a key part of the declaration adopted by MP's. “Parents are an example of how to behave and what to do. If we as parents are inseparable with digital devices, our kids will do the same,” said Sevinj Fataliyeva, a parliamentarian from Azerbaijan. Dutch legislator Johan Van Der Hout said efforts to tackle child sexual abuse online were primitive if children’s voices were not accounted for. He called for a child-centred approach to the issue. “We have to empower them [children] on the internet. We cannot take it away,” he said. The views were mirrored by criminologist and Middlesex University researcher Elena Martellozzo, who conducts research on how children feel when exposed to sexual content online. Ms. Martellozzo said children were being exposed to online sexual content at earlier ages and there is a need to better understand the impact. “We need to focus on empowering young children. We need to focus on what they can be exposed to so they can have a better online environment which is a wonderful environment,” she said. “Critically engage with them about the material they find online.”Researchers from UNICEF Innocenti also presented Global Kids Online as a model for improving evidence on children’s experiences online. The global Research Synthesis pilot study on child internet use conducted by UNICEF Innocenti and the London School of Economics explores the opportunities and risks of the internet for children. According to the study up to two thirds of children in some countries have seen sexual content online, while a minority had contact with unknown persons online. Despite potential risks, research showed that most children had met persons with some kind of prior connection to them, such as a fellow classmate or community member. Parents also reported low digital skills, complicating potential risks to children online.“The conversation of what children do online should be part of the general discussion with children. It backfires when trying to ban kids from using phones,” said Jasmina Byrne, child protection specialist at UNICEF Innocenti.“In order to combat sexual violence against children we need legal and policy measures above all.” 
Children worldwide gain benefits, face risks on the internet
Article Article

Children worldwide gain benefits, face risks on the internet

(2 November 2016) A majority of children say they learn something new online at least every week, but large numbers still face risks online, according to the Global Kids Online Research Synthesis Report 2015 – 2016 produced by the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti and the London School of Economics and Political Science. The Global Kids Online project, launched today at the Children’s Lives in the Digital Age seminar held at UNICEF Headquarters in New York, aims to build a global network of researchers investigating the risks and opportunities of child internet use. The Global Kids Online website makes high quality, flexible research tools freely available worldwide. Pilot studies utilizing the new toolkit among children aged 9 – 17 in Argentina, the Philippines, Serbia and South Africa have been published in the new report. The indicative findings show that children are gaining a range of online opportunities including learning, health information, social connections and new digital skills. However, the more time children spend online, the more risks they face. The findings also suggest that many parents lack the digital skills to support their children online. On average, 8 in 10 children surveyed in the report accessed the internet on smartphones. This supports their independent access to the internet, again bringing opportunities and risks.Speaking at the New York launch event Professor Sonia Livingstone from LSE observed: “As the internet reaches more children in more countries, it is vital to extend the evidence base to guide policy makers as they balance children’s rights to participation, provision and protection online.”A substantial minority of children have also had contact with unknown persons online. Most children do not go on to meet with such persons face to face, and they often have some prior connection with the person, however, more education around the issue is needed, the study shows. In some countries, up to two thirds of children have seen sexual content online and others reported harmful or hurtful experiences online. The main causes of harmful or hurtful experiences according to the children were internet scams, pop ups or harassment. The number of children reporting upsetting experiences online ranged from a fifth in South Africa to three quarters in Argentina. When children experienced something troubling online between a third and two thirds of them most often turned to their friends for support. Only five to ten per cent sought help from a teacher, and even fewer sought help from other professionals.“When we discuss policy related to child internet use, it is essential that children’s voices and opinions are taken into account,” said Sarah Cook, Director of UNICEF Innocenti. “Research with children allows us to create a more realistic portrait of the significant opportunities as well as the safety concerns for children online. Hearing children’s aspirations and concerns is vital for translating this knowledge into messages for policy makers.”Other findings reveal how a majority of children value the internet as a learning tool, yet, they rarely are able to use it at school or to 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.Jasmina Byrne, child protection specialist at UNICEF Innocenti shared why it was important to take into account children’s digital experiences.“At the global level, evidence and research on child internet use can help build a consensus among international actors on international standards, agreements, protocols and investments in order to make the internet a safer and better place for children.”For more information, visit