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Child Dignity in a digital world Congress at Vatican City

UNICEF Innocenti research lead makes presentation on Global Kids Online data

(10 October 2017) UNICEF Innocenti was invited to present the results of a survey launched by Global Kids Online (GKO), an international research project co-sponsored with the London School of Economics, at the “Child Dignity in the Digital World” congress organized by the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and the WeProtect Global Alliance, 3-6 October. The Congress brought together outstanding experts, leaders and government representatives from around the world to discuss international efforts to protect children from online sexual abuse and other issues related to child protection in the digital age.

In his remarks Pope Francis recognized the great advantages offered by the digital revolution, but exhorted social media businesses to invest “a fair portion of their great profits” to protect “impressionable minds” and to guide the processes set in motion by growth of technology, rejecting any “ideological and mythical vision of the net as a realm of unlimited freedom”.

An adolescent girl reading a text at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome first congress on Child Dignity Congress on protecting children from online sexual abuse.


The final “Declaration of Rome” called on politicians, religious leaders, and stakeholder organizations to help build a global awareness to protect children from online exploitation.

Jasmina Byrne, child protection specialist at UNICEF Innocenti, introduced the GKO project and shared insights from 5 countries that have already made their results public: Argentina, Bulgaria, South Africa, Chile and Montenegro

Between 32 and 68 per cent of children have seen sexual images online, and between 11 and 27 per cent have felt upset by the images. Moreover, between 7 and 26 per cent of interviewed children were targeted by sexual images with up to 39 per cent feeling upset about it. Both experiences were more common among the older children. Between 20 and 41 per cent of children accepted contact with people they were familiar with but had not met in person, while in the 12 months prior to the surveys between 8 and 32 per cent of children met a “stranger” and of those up to 40 per cent fell into the 15-17 age range.

“Although only between 1 and 8 per cent were upset by meeting those they did not know before” said Jasmina Byrne, “… we should not neglect the number of those who felt bothered about this experience and we need to know more about these children.”

Byrne also highlighted some of the implications for policy that have resulted from the survey, including: the close connection between offline and online risks and the need to understand more about the children who are most vulnerable to online harm. She also highlighted the importance of adopting a child-centered approach to online risks, giving full recognition of diversity in children’s lives, age and gender. Early educational interventions, especially for younger children, to support the development of children’s digital skills, literacies and safety practices are among the most critical recommendations coming out of the GKO research to date. Byrne emphasized the importance of promoting digital citizenship and child safety online through a multi-stakeholder, multi-sectoral approach, and with engagement from parents and children themselves.

Jasmina Byrne, child protection specialist with UNICEF Innocenti shaking hands with Pope Francis at the Pontifical Gregorian University Congress on Child Dignity in the Digital World.


The random household surveys undertaken by GKO research partner countries did not specifically target children or groups of children who are vulnerable to sexual abuse online, but instead looked at the whole range of children’s experiences online. As of 2017 it has collected data from 10 countries and some 10,000 children and 5,000 parents. More information available about country reports, comparative analysis and other resources at and

Also presenting at the Congress was Cornelius Williams, Global Chief of Child Protection based at UNICEF headquarters in New York. Williams explained how the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 provide an important global commitment endorsed by the world’s governments to advocate for improved multi-sectoral efforts to protect children from violence and exploitation online.

Prof. Hans Zollner SJ, President of the Centre for Child Protection said “The congress provides an outstanding opportunity to exchange knowledge and good practice on risks and prevention as children navigate this new digital world.”

Baroness Shields OBE, UK Minister for Internet Safety and Security said: “Our increasingly connected society greatly empowers children, but 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 Pontifical Gregorian University conference in Rome provided an opportunity to reflect on the magnitude of a rapidly growing global phenomenon which involves children from all ages and in all countries, and to discuss online bullying, pornography and paedophilia at the presence of representatives from the main social media business companies, including Facebook and Microsoft.

The international research project GKO developed by UNICEF Innocenti, London School of Economics, EU Kids Online is a first step in that direction. GKO provides a methodology and a research framework to carry out comparative research worldwide with children from 9-17 and their parents, and to build evidence that can be used to help policy makers and practitioners develop approaches to protect children’s rights in the digital age; maximizing their opportunities to benefit from the internet while minimizing risk of harm. 

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Global Kids Online research partnership is launched; research synthesis on child internet use published
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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.
Philippines conducting national survey of child internet use
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Philippines conducting national survey of child internet use

(11 September 2017) UNICEF Philippines, in collaboration with researchers at De La Salle University, is currently undertaking a national survey of child internet use based on the ‘Global Kids Online’ cross-national research toolkit methodology. The research follows a successful pilot study in 2016. A total of 144 field researchers are carrying out data collection across the country. In order to ensure young children's engagement, emphasis was placed on hiring young researchers with whom children would find it easier to establish rapport.In some cases, the fieldwork researchers have to undertake great efforts to reach secluded areas. For ensuring their safety, as well as to have a gender balance, there is a buddy-system in place in which one male and one female interviewer work and travel together. In terms of equipment, each team member received a waterproof bag for the tablet and printed surveys as back-up.[Read the Global Kids Online Research Synthesis, 2016]“We are trying to do fieldwork site visits and monitor the progress of the fieldwork and the work of the survey interviewers,” said Maria Margarita Ardivilla, of UNICEF Philippines. “This is important so that we can get an understanding of the perspective on the ground and help to address issues as they arise.”“This provided a space in which the field researchers and the members of the Research Board can process and talk about concerns from the field which proved to be an enriching experience for everyone involved. As some of the enumerators work under hard circumstances trying to reach hard to access places, seeing core members of the Research Board boosted their morale.” Researchers are taking a phased approach to the study: the preparatory phase (then undertaken with the University of the Philippines and the Philippines National Institutes of Health) included working on the research protocol and obtaining ethical approval; the second phase entailed conducting the pilot study in 2016; and the final third phase now includes conducting a nationally representative study with children aged 9-17 and their parents.Considering the sensitivity of some of the questions, particularly related to child sexual exploitation, all researchers received an extensive 4-day training prior to commencing the fieldwork. Training sessions were organized by the De La Salle University’s Social Research Development Centre where the research team, including UNICEF, Council for the Welfare of Children and Stairway Foundation, discussed and practiced utilization of standardized, accurate, sensitive and safe techniques for implementing the survey. The training programme included: 1) children’s rights and child safeguarding principles and protection protocols; 2) development and personality of children; 3) a participatory approach to reviewing the Global Kids Online toolkit, the tablet use and questionnaire application, including interview techniques; 4) discussion of key issues related to children’s internet use; 5) ethical considerations when conducting research with children; 6) role plays; and 7) a mock survey. UNICEF Philippines also required a Research Advisory Board to be created by the academic institution where members are from critical national agencies such as the Departments of Social Welfare and Development, Justice and Information and Communications Technology from government, NGOs, and sectoral representatives from the youth and LGBT organizations.A school girl takes a ‘selfie’ with her smartphone at St. Francis of Assisi School, while other students check their smartphones after classes in the Central Visayas city of Cebu, Philippines. The study aims to cover as many regions as possible, but some ongoing conflicts pose challenges for the team. The declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao initially raised concerns on whether social preparation and the actual survey would be affected, and whether the personal safety of the data collectors could be ensured. Having addressed the challenges, the fieldwork in Mindanao was able to commence but red flags remain in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). This is a fragile region with pockets of armed conflicts and the team is currently seeking dispensation from the Ethical Review Board of De La Salle University to allow the inclusion of the ARMM as a site for the study. During the time of writing, it was reported to UNICEF Philippines that the De La Salle University continued the field survey in Mindanao with facilitation where some of the randomly selected areas had a 100% response rate. Notably, in Metro Manila, children living in gated communities also proved hard to recruit, despite intensive social preparation.At present, 2,250 child respondents are identified to be surveyed. The quantitative survey will be followed by a qualitative workshop for results validation and to afford children the platform to express in more depth their experiences and thoughts about their opportunities and risks in the digital environment.The Global Kids Online survey in Philippines is made possible through the technical support of UNICEF Innocenti, London School of Economics, and the shared programmatic commitment on child online protection of UNICEF Philippines and Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.(The original version of this article was written by Maria Margarita Ardivilla of UNICEF Philippines and published on 17 August 2017 on It has been edited slightly for re-publication here.)

Research Projects

Child rights in the digital age
Research Project Research Project

Child rights in the digital age

One in three internet users globally is a child. This proportion is likely to be even higher in the global South. Organizations working to advance children’s rights and promote well-being need to understand how to reduce the risk of harm children face online while maximizing their opportunities for learning, participation and creativity. Crucially, children’s perspectives and experiences need to be considered when drafting policies that govern the use of young people’s digital use, as well as when designing the technology itself. However, there is still insufficient evidence globally to enable policy and practice to act in children’s best interest.To bridge this evidence gap, UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti coordinates and facilitates research on children’s use of digital technologies by developing research methodologies that can be implemented to generate national evidence. UNICEF Innocenti coordinates two multi-country evidence generation programmes, Global Kids Online and Disrupting Harm , which serve to generate evidence of the opportunities and risks that children from around the world may encounter in a digital age. In addition, UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti engages with stakeholders  to ensure that children’s perspectives are at centre of discourse and debates around internet governance and children’s internet use. We publish research on national and international internet-related policies affecting children and support UNICEF country offices, regional offices and headquarters in carrying out high-quality research and interventions. We  actively contribute to global discussions around online gaming, excessive internet use, digital technology and mental health, online violence and technology-facilitated sexual exploitation and abuse.COVID-19 & Children OnlineThe importance of children's internet access during COVID-19 An analysis of new data from Global Kids Online and EU Kids Online on: children’s internet access, proportion of children accessing health information online, and extent to which they are able to verify the truth of online informationChildren’s use of digital technology during COVID-19Online surveys across eleven European countries will help understand: what digital engagement looks like during COVID-19; how it has changed; and what support children need to take advantage of the internet during lockdowns. 


Global Kids Online Research Synthesis, 2015-2016
Publication Publication

Global Kids Online Research Synthesis, 2015-2016

The international community has recognized the importance of internet access for development, economic growth and the realization of civil rights and is actively seeking ways to ensure universal internet access to all segments of society. Children should be an important part of this process, not only because they represent a substantial percentage of internet users but also because they play an important part in shaping the internet.