ANKARA, Turkey, 1 December 2011 - A landmark meeting was held recently at the national parliament to advocate for children and young people’s optimal and safe use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT).
|VIDEO: Khaled Mansour, UNICEF Director of Communications, speaks to a youth reporter at the 12th Children's Forum in Ankara, Turkey. Watch in RealPlayer|
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 on this emerging phenomenon following the two-day meeting and a parallel conference for academics, civil society and government officials convened by UNICEF.
Fast growing online community
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 a 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,” Ismail said. “We need to educate everyone.”
Professor Ferhunde Öktem spoke on behalf of the group of academics and civil society urging 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, the related law (on ICTs) should be revised to our recommendations,” she said.
|© UNICEF Turkey/2011/Oktay Ustun|
|Khaled Mansour, UNICEF Director of Communication and Ayman Abulaban, Turkey Country Representative with children and leaders at the national parliament.|
Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek 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.
Online safety risks
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 highlighted a stark gender divide in this nation of 74 million people. According to the study, only 50 per cent of girls aged 16-24 compared to 77 per cent of boys in the same age group regularly use the Internet. The study also outlined primary risks faced by young people here including sharing personal information without proper precautions, exposure to malicious software and cyber bullying, as well as other safety risks
Cagla Uz is a child rights activist and an avid Facebook user 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 images of children working on the streets trigger a lot of comments on her Facebook page, she said. She now also receives much more information about child rights violations from children themselves as well as from other young activists who can help fight for these children through social networks.
“ICT has opened a window that has not been opened before,” said Dr. Ayman Abulaban, UNICEF Country Representative for Turkey. “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.”
Khaled Mansour, UNICEF Director of Communication, was also present at the parliament meeting and the conferences, as the country study is part of a global digital citizenship and safety project. The project’ s main goal is to better understand and address the impact of ICTs on the lifestyle of children and young people in developing countries. It also aims to raise public awareness and to advocate to policy makers on how to maximize ICT opportunities while minimizing risks.
In Turkey, UNICEF has supported child empowerment by organizing annual national child forums discussing a variety of issues ranging from violence against children to education.
To download the report ‘Youth of Turkey Online’ click here.
To watch youth reporters blogging video interviews about the forum click here.