UNICEF and ZICTA hold child on-line safety symposium
LUSAKA, Zambia (By Betty Chella Nalungwe/UNICEF) -- Inspiration for child on-line safety in Zambia came from the realisation that young people in Zambia and all across the world are living in a time of unprecedented expansion of mobile phone technology.
With the number of mobile phone subscriptions surpassing the global population, this generation has more access to mobile phone, social media, and the Internet than any that has come before.
Zambia has also registered a significant increase in mobile-cellular penetration, from 61 per cent in 2011 to 76 per cent in 2012. Although the total internet user penetration is at 13.5%, the youth internet user penetration is at approximately 30%, according to an exploratory survey completed by UNICEF and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.
Inspired by partnership and common interests in ensuring that the rights of all children are realized, UNICEF Zambia and the Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA) held a two-day symposium on child online safety last November in order to inform and also share findings of the UNICEF/Harvard survey.
Another key objective was to explain to partners in Zambia’s government and civil society how vast the problem of online safety and how urgent the matter should be addressed by also sharing personal experiences that were documented in a separate Digital Citizenship and Safety (DCS) survey in schools that was conducted by UNICEF in Zambia last year.
In his keynote address to the participants, the Honourable Minister of Transport, Works, Supply, and Communications, Yamfwa Mukanga, MP, pledged both his personal and Government’s commitment to the full realization of online safety for children in Zambia. “I wish to give you my personal and Government’s support to ensuring that children in Zambia will be able to enjoy learning in various media including digital spaces in a safe and comfortable environment,” Mukanga said.
The symposium was a platform for ZICTA and UNICEF to develop a collaboration with partners to ensure that children are educated about the importance of online safety and how they can use ICTs to better their lives and educational needs.
The child online safety symposium also presented an opportunity to discuss with the Government on the steps they should consider taking to ensure the safety of children online without infringing on their right to freedom of expression. The symposium also helped to inform partners to look at the issue of accessibility of computers, phones, and internet services for our young people.
“When we look at online safety, we need to also look more broadly at what measures are being put across to ensure that all young people have access to ICTs and what are the opportunities to ensure that they are safe while doing it,” said Kate Pawelczyk of UNICEF’s Social and Civic Media Section at the organization’s New York headquarters, who attended and helped organize the symposium.
ZICTA Director General Margaret Mudenda said, “Zambia has made tremendous progress in ensuring that every citizen has access to telephone and internet services. Everywhere you go it is most likely that you will see use of ICTs. On the other hand, however, the security and safety of such technologies especially for the young is still a work in progress. It is undeniable that the ills and cyber threats that accompany an information and digital society are around us now,” Mudenda said.
The symposium provided an opportunity for UNICEF to share key findings of the exploratory study of online safety for young people in Zambia. This was an exploratory study targeted at young people to assess the use of the internet and digital devices. The primary data collection tool utilized in the study was a self-administered questionnaire developed by UNICEF. The study sample was comprised of 525 participants aged 10-18 from 15 different schools in urban, peri- urban and rural areas across the country.
The primary finding of the study was that mobile phone use is high among Zambian youth and there is a minimal difference between urban youth and rural youth in this trend. The situation is different when it comes to mobile phone ownership, as more urban youth own mobile phones compared to their rural counterparts. The study also found differences between urban areas and rural areas with regard to Internet access and the frequency of internet use among the youth.
During the symposium, student participants underwent a training sessions on how they can protect themselves in their use of ICTs, making the Internet a safe place. They also received information on how they can cooperate with their parents to ensure their safety while being online. Once the training was completed, the students formed four discussion groups to develop suggestions and recommendations on how the Internet can be made safer in Zambia.
Some of the recommendations that came from the groups included: incorporating digital literacy into the school curriculum; working with the private sector to improve access to ICTs; making educational resources more interactive and accessible; and the need for awareness raising among children about DCS but also among parents and the general public.
“Overall, the symposium achieved its goal of getting together children and stakeholders to discuss issues of importance around digital citizenship and safety and chart the way forward,” said UNICEF Zambia’s Chief, Communications Patrick Slavin.