UNICEF is calling for urgent action to protect children from a host of risks and harms online around the world including the Pacific, as part of its Safer Internet Day message this week.
As more than 175,000 children go online for the first time every day, digital access offers great opportunities for children, but UNICEF warns it also comes with grave risks such as having access to harmful content, sexual exploitation and abuse, cyberbullying, and misuse of their private information.
UNICEF Pacific Representative, Sheldon Yett, said “Collective action – by governments, the private sector, children’s organizations, academia, families and children themselves – is needed to level the digital playing field and ensure safer internet spaces for children”.
In the Pacific, Tonga and Samoa are playing their part with cyber safety programmes being delivered in both countries in partnership with UNICEF.
This includes “outreach activities and youth rallies to raise awareness amongst children and young people, as well as to promote dialogue between children and adolescents and their parents, and to provide tips to parents as to how to protect their children from harmful online activities” said Yett.
UNICEF Director of Data, Research and Policy, Laurence Chandy said that although some progress has been made in forming policies and approaches to stop the worse online risks, “more effort must be made to fully understand and protect children’s online lives.”
“In the time it takes to click on a link, a child somewhere begins creating a digital trail, which those not necessarily considering the child’s best interest can follow and potentially exploit,” said Chandy.
“As younger and younger children join the Internet, the need to have a serious discussion about how to keep them safe online and secure their digital footprint becomes increasingly urgent.”
According to UNICEF’s The State of the World’s Children 2017: Children in a digital world report, one in three internet users worldwide is a child.
The report says the technology and telecommunication industries have a significant and unique responsibility it needs to take seriously and this includes advancing industry-wide ethical standards on data and privacy and other practices that benefit and protect children online.
Governments, civil society, United Nations agencies, and other international children’s organizations, and the private sector need to put children at the centre of digital policy.