Children in Turkey speak up for better, safer online access for all
ANKARA, Turkey, 23 November 2011 - A landmark meeting was held today at the national parliament to advocate for children and young people’s optimal and safe use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT).
The 12th Children’s Forum galvanized more than 160 children from all the provinces. For the first time, the children gave recommendations to key leaders and legislators on this emerging phenomenon following the two-day meeting and a parallel conference for academics, civil society and government officials convened by UNICEF.
The events come at a time when the issue is generating much public attention in Turkey, one of the fastest growing online communities in the world.
Young child rights activists, Damla Gundogan and Ismail Pelenkoglu, appealed to packed room at the grand natıonal assembly for more efforts to boost greater access and digital literacy among parents and teachers. “Many of them are still unaware on how to guide children to navigate and take advantage of the cyberspace. We need to educate everyone,” Ismail said.
Professor Ferhunde Oktem spoke on behalf of the group of academics and civil society. She urged policy makers for more transparency and respect to freedom of expression and the full participation of children and young people, “ to pave the way for cultural diversity and equal opportunity. She concluded: “The related law (on ICTs) should be revised to our recommendations.”
Parliament Speaker Cemil Cicek responded by promising to initiate a multi-stakeholder parliamentary research commission to guıde future evidence-based policymaking. The Minister of Family and Social Policy Fatma Sahin whose office is responsible for child participation also voiced her strong support to ensure the recommendations will shape the process.
UNICEF recently conducted a study Youth of Turkey Online analyzing youth access and behavior online compiling existing credible Turkish and international research. One of the findings cited a EU Kids Online Survey pointing to a stark gender divide in this nation of 74 million people. Only 50 per cent of girls compared to 77 per cent of boys surveyed reported regularly use the Internet. The study also outlined primary risks faced by young people here are sharing personal information without proper precautions, exposure to malicious software and cyber bullying, though other safety risks exist.
“I thought that Turkish children are very active in surfing the İnternet but I now learned that compared to European countries, our numbers are still pretty low. I was surprised to learn that other Turkish girls are not as lucky as me. Many of them don’t even to get to get on line let alone know what risks exist and if they do they will not know how to protect themselves,” said a child rights activist, Cagla Uz.
Cagla is an avid user of Facebook with more than 460 friends. She used the platform to campaign and was successfully elected as the 2011-2013 national youth forum coordinator. She now plans to use her social media network to raise awareness of child labour, a major concern in her home province.
Posting striking - but ethical - images of children working on the streets trigger a lot of comments on her Facebook page, she said. She also receives faster and much more information from children about violations of their rights and from other young activists who can help fight for them through these networks.
“ICT has opened a window that has not been opened before. Children need to know how to deal with the risks and also use this window of opportunity as constructively as they can. It can be a tool to gain knowledge, democracy, for participation and sharing ideas,” said Dr. Ayman Abulaban, the Country Representative for Turkey.
Khaled Mansour, UNICEF Director of Communication, was also present at the parliament and at both conferences as the country study is part of a global digital citizenship and safety project. İts main aims are to better understand and address ICTs impact on the lifestyle of children and young people in developing countries by raising awareness among the public and advocating to policy makers on how to maximizing on ICTs’ opportunities while minimizing risks.