A ‘young’ country on the move

Country Programme 2006-2010

The new UNICEF representative in Albania

Related information on the Convention on the Rights of the Child


Mr Palm's speech during the Annual National Conference on Child on Line Safety in Albania on 5 February 2013

Last year, I talked about Facebook, which was about to go on the stock market. We all were amazed by the money people were ready to pay for a share of the Facebook company. But expectations of investors were not met. What happened?

Facebook is making money by extracting information from its users, and selling this data to companies who want to advertise. But over the last year, more people are using Facebook on their mobile telephones, and there is not a lot of space for advertisements.

But the principle remains the same – the social network sites collect your data, they know what you like or dislike, what you want to buy or what you look like. It is Facebook, but also Google Plus and others. According to their own reports, Facebook and Google are making 5 Dollar per user, by selling our identity, our dreams and wishes to others.

Now that social networking and internet use has gone mobile, it is reaching more people than ever. There are more than 1 billion people that use Facebook. And a large proportion of these users are children. 

There are enormous benefits and opportunities that the internet – on the PC or mobile phones – bring to all of us. I am using the internet to do research for my speech. Information technology is central to the lives of young people. The Internet is the most frequently used media by children. It is a key educational resource, providing information, entertainment, music and films.

Every second young person in Albania is going online a few times a day, often on their smart phone. Internet is a fundamental part of their social lives. Nobody needs to be alone as long as you have your cyber network. Especially young people wander seamlessly from the real world into an online-fantasy world and back.

Now comes the uncomfortable part. More opportunities create more risk. Children on the internet share new information about themselves almost every day. As we increase the reach of internet and mobile communications in support of the right to information, freedom of expression and association, we need to balance it with measures to protect children from harm – as part of Albania’s overall child protection system.

The internet has not created crimes involving abuse, including sexual abuse and exploitation of children. But it has enhanced the potential for misconduct on a scale unimaginable a few years ago. The most common risk reported by children is communication with people they haven't met.

The industry in Albania is coordinating around a code of conduct on mobile and internet service provision. These are great steps. I congratulate government and the corporate world for this initiative. But it is one thing to reduce exposure to unwanted content, and another to be approached by stalkers or criminals through social networking sites.

The first line of defense is to empower children on the safe use of the internet. This is easier said than done. Because children tend to be considerably more internet-savvy than we adults, who often don’t understand the fast changing technology. Many children know how to protect their own sites – and they usually ask their friends for help rather than parents or teachers.

So young people are exposed to information, values, ideas and contacts beyond those of their families or communities. You meet people in the cyber space you never would want to meet in real life. Schools and local authorities should help parents to better understand what is going on in the cyber world.

If we want to empower children on the use of the internet, we don’t need to teach them how to navigate through the sites, but to caution them about the traps of unwelcome contact. Most internet use happens at home. So - talk to your children.

Second, there must be zero tolerance against cyber crime, especially when directed at children, with clear definitions about the child, consent, child pornography or child abuse images. Good examples and standards of such legislation exist elsewhere.

Last October, 2012, the UN Committee on the Convention on the Rights of the Child reviewed Albania’s report on the implementation of the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography. In its concluding observations, the Committee urged Albania to enact legislation to criminalize the downloading or possession of child pornography, and to prevent dissemination of such material through better surveillance.

The Committee also recommends that Albania bring its Criminal Code into compliance with the Optional Protocol, and explicitly criminalize actions with the purpose of sexual exploitation, improperly inducing consent, or the production, distribution, or possession of child pornography. There must be no impunity.

The internet connects us all, mostly for the better and occasionally for the worse. Children can be at grave risk. Schools, parents, civil society and state agencies all need to be part of a system that protects our children.



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