Every 1 in 3 internet users globally is a child but not much is being done to protect them from the perils of the digital world and to increase their access to safe online content, according to a latest report by the UNICEF.
The latest edition of “The State of the World’s Children 2017: Children in a digital world’’ says young people are the most connected age group with 71% being online now with 48% of the total population. While just 1 in 25 young persons in Europe is not connected, 3 out of 5 youth in Africa still continue to be offline.
Approximately 56% of all website are in English and many children cannot find the content they understand or that is culturally relevant, and more than 9 in 10 child sex abuse URLs identified globally are hosted in Canada, France, the Netherlands, the Russian federation and the United States.
The report presents UNICEF’s first comprehensive look at the different ways digital technology is affecting children’s lives and life chances, identifying dangers as well as opportunities. It argues that governments and the private sector have not kept up with the pace of change, exposing children to new risks and harms and leaving millions of the most disadvantaged children behind.
“For better and for worse, digital technology is now an irreversible fact of our lives,” says UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “In a digital world, our dual challenge is how to mitigate the harms while maximizing the benefits of the internet for every child.”
The report explores the benefits digital technology can offer the most disadvantaged children, including those growing up in poverty or affected by humanitarian emergencies. These include increasing their access to information, building skills for the digital workplace, and giving them a platform to connect and communicate their views.
But the report shows that millions of children are missing out. Around one third of the world’s youth – 346 million – are not online, exacerbating inequities and reducing children’s ability to participate in an increasingly digital economy.
The report also examines how the internet increases children’s vulnerability to risks and harms, including misuse of their private information, access to harmful content, and cyberbullying. The ubiquitous presence of mobile devices, the report notes, has made online access for many children less supervised – and potentially more dangerous.
And digital networks like the Dark Web and cryptocurrencies are enabling the worst forms of exploitation and abuse, including trafficking and ‘made to order’ online child sexual abuse.
Only collective action – by governments, the private sector, children’s organizations, academia, families and children themselves – can help level the digital playing field and make the internet safer and more accessible for children, the report says while recommending provision of affordable access to high quality online resources for all children.
The report also calls for protecting children from harm online – including abuse, exploitation, trafficking, cyberbullying and exposure to unsuitable materials, safeguarding children’s privacy and identities online, as well as teaching digital literacy to keep children informed, engaged and safe online.
“Girls and boys in India have the unique opportunity to benefit from the connectivity that the digital world can provide. India is famous as an IT Hub and no matter where they live, every girl or boy should have a digital advantage,” said UNICEF Representative in India, Dr Yasmin Ali Haque at the launch in Delhi.
“UNICEF is working with the Government in developing a comprehensive plan on digital safety for children. The Internet and social media provide incredible opportunities for children to learn, participate and socialize but it also brings significant risks of online abuse and violence. Digital literacy is, therefore, key to ensure that all girls and all boys can stay informed, engaged and safe online,” says Dr Haque.