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Working together for child safety online

© ITU/2009
While the Internet has amazing potential for children's self-development, it also contains hidden threats to their safety and well-being.

KUALA LUMPUR, 17 May 2009 – There are many challenges that children face growing up in the modern world today. In addition to the struggle for basic survival and needs in some poor countries, children are increasingly being confronted with rapid social and technological change and a more competitive society.

As young people become exposed to external pressures and influences in such an environment, they have to face threats like HIV and AIDS, drug and alcohol abuse, as well as violence, harm and exploitation.

These threats are all inter-linked and can be traced back to the fulfilment of children’s rights, which are guaranteed under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). If children do not have their rights to survival, development, protection and participation, they will eventually be pushed out into the margins of society and become much more vulnerable to the threats surrounding them.

"Children face violence, harm and exploitation from different sources, including through their use of Internet and mobile technology. If children’s safety online cannot be guaranteed, then they are at higher risk of abuse, exploitation and social problems," said Mr Youssouf Oomar, UNICEF Representative to Malaysia and Special Representative to Brunei.

Internet generation

Children are the most active users of the Internet, but they are also the most vulnerable. The CRC guarantees children’s rights to access and share information that will allow them to express themselves, and benefit their health and well-being, but at the same time, will not harm them.

According to the Economic Planning Unit, the number of Internet users in Malaysia in 2006 was 518.8 per 1,000 people. From the 2006 figures, Malaysia ranked higher than Thailand (140.6 per 1,000) and Indonesia (92.5 per 1,000), but lower than Singapore (663.0 per 1,000) and United States (703.4 per 1,000).

These figures show that Malaysia is catching up to developed countries, in terms of Internet usage. The Malaysian Government is actively encouraging the use of Internet by expanding broadband coverage, ensuring that schoolchildren are ICT-literate and equipping schools with broadband technology.

Cyber threats

While the Internet has amazing potential, it also contains hidden threats to the safety and well-being of children, including online gaming sites that can result in unhealthy addiction, cyber-bullying and victimisation through mobile phones that can have severe consequences on a child’s self-confidence and personal development, as well as exploitative marketing that may have financial consequences on the child and parents.

Another threat that may not be immediately obvious but is of great concern, is the potential for children to be exposed to sexual harassment, exploitation and pornography through online chats and social networking sites.

Children are also vulnerable to being targeted by fraudsters, who try to gain knowledge about them in order to abuse, terrorise, blackmail, steal or even kidnap them.

"As the Internet is a valuable medium that allows children to explore and develop to their full potential, protective measures are extremely critical to ensure that the Internet is child-friendly, and that it promotes, rather than damages, children’s self-development," Mr Youssouf emphasised.

Virtual protection

Parents and carers are primarily responsible for protecting their children, by supervising their access to cyberspace appropriately, coaching children in personal safety, and installing parental control software.

However, governments, industry providers, regulatory agencies, schools and the community also share the responsibility to support parents in ensuring that children are equipped with the skills to safeguard themselves.

Parents and carers should be able to download free parental control/filtering software and child-friendly software. Information on how to download these should be made widely available to all consumers, for example by distributing leaflets to all Internet subscribers.

Parents, teachers and the community should also be given information on how to contact the local regulatory agency (Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission) and the police, so that they are able to report sites, search engines and Internet service providers that are harmful to children, especially those promoting unlawful activities.

Greater attention should also be paid to the prosecution of offenders, and increase the public perception and reality that offenders will be caught.

What UNICEF is doing

Cyberspace threats are a fairly new phenomenon, but the CRC, which turns 20 this year, clearly underlines the principles for children’s protection from any form of violence or harm.

UNICEF welcomes the theme of World Telecommunication and Information Society Day and the initiatives by Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), as it provides the opportunity to spotlight children’s safety in cyberspace so that young people can continue to use the Internet safely.

"By supporting MCMC in spreading the message that cyberspace threats are not to be ignored, we hope that more sectors will be encouraged to take on the responsibility of child safety online," Mr Youssouf concluded.

 

 

 

 

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