(4 December 2017) The internet has brought great benefits to young people, particularly those who are marginalized or live in remote communities. Yet it also presents risks to child safety, according to international experts. UNICEF officials participated in the Safeguarding the Future: Online Protection of Underage Users session of the Fourth World Internet Conference – Wuzhen Summit. The session was co-hosted by the UNICEF China country office.
According to Jasmina Byrne, Child Protection Specialist at UNICEF Innocenti, “The majority of children from 7 countries surveyed (Argentina, Chile, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Serbia, South Africa and the Philippines) have learned something new by going online – they found useful information for their study or work opportunity, participated in sites where other children share similar interests, and up to 50% of children looked for health information on line.”
“When we asked children about negative experiences online between 12-36% of children said they had experienced being treated in a hurtful or a nasty way,” said Byrne. UNICEF Innocenti is co-sponsor, along with London School of Economics, of the Global Kids Online (GKO) research partnership which was launched in October 2016. GKO started with four participating countries and has grown to cover 10 countries with another 10, including China set to join the cross-country effort in 2018.
"Protecting children online is a vital issue in internet governance. That’s why UNICEF has been engaged on this issue for years,’ said Ms Fatoumata Ndiaye, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, "And protecting children online is closely linked to the Sustainable Development Goals, which represent governments’ promises to their citizens to take action on key issues, including protecting children from violence, both offline and online."
Children worldwide face threats from cyberbullying, internet fraud and invasions of privacy - and only the joint efforts of governments, tech companies and NGOs can protect them, said Rana Flowers, China representative for UNICEF.
UNICEF has treated the protection of children online as a priority for many years, she said, adding that this year's edition of The State of the World's Children, the organization's annual report, will focus on the benefits and risks young people face in the digital age. The report will be released this month.
Jasmina Byrne summed up key policy imperatives for improved internet governance for children. “Key features of digital policy for children’s rights should be the development of children’s skills and literacies. This will enable children to make the most of digital connectivity as well as to understand risks and negative consequences of their internet use. It will help them understand their own responsibility towards other internet users and to be good digital citizens. Digital literacy encompasses all these areas, implying a set of competencies that goes beyond technical skills. It includes the ability to search, evaluate and manage information found online.”