First National Conference on Children in the Digital World - “Together for Safer Internet for Children in Bulgaria”

One in seven children in Bulgaria report having been victims of online bullying and stalking

09 November 2023
First National Conference on Children in the Digital World - “Together for Safer Internet for Children in Bulgaria”
UNICEF Bulgaria/2023
Blocks
Кристина де Бройн, представител на УНИЦЕФ в България и г-н Росен Желязков, председател на Народното събрание
UNICEF Bulgaria/2023/Yotova

Sofia, 9 November 2023- Alarming data on online violence and a dramatic increase in reports of online sexual exploitation and abuse of children received by the Safer Internet Center in 2023 are part of the reasons for holding the first National Conference on Online Safety and Digital Skills for Children. The forum is organized by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in partnership with the Ministry of Interior, the State Agency for Child Protection (SACP), the National Network for Children and the Parents Association, which manages the Safer Internet Centre, and aims to promote dialogue, share knowledge and experience, and improve national efforts to make the Internet safer for children and young people in Bulgaria.

Mr. Rosen Zhelyazkov, Chairperson of the National Assembly, Mr. Stoyan Temelakiev, Deputy minister of the Interior, Ms. Teodora Ivanova, Chairperson of the SACP, Mr. Georgi Bogdanov, Executive Director of the National Network for Children, and Ms. Christina de Bruin, UNICEF Representative in Bulgaria, presented the benefits and opportunities that digitalization and the Internet bring for children, but also highlighted the visible and proven dangers for them such as misinformation, cyberbullying, harmful and illegal content, sexual abuse and exploitation of children.

Ten years ago, reports of child abuse materials on the internet were less than 1 million worldwide. Last year, 2022, the number rose to 29 million, with more than 85 million pieces of suspected child abuse material. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the issue, with Internet Watch Foundation noting a 64% increase in reports of confirmed child sexual abuse in 2021 compared to the previous year.2023 is also a record year for Bulgaria as for the period January - September 2023 The Safer Internet Centre received and processed over 32,000 alerts on illegal and harmful content, a 79% increase compared to the same period last year. Over 90% of the cases are related to sexual exploitation and abuse of children.

The National Study of Violence against Children, commissioned by UNICEF and presented in April 2021, shows that 47% of children in Bulgaria, or one in two, have experienced some form of violence by the age of 18. According to the same study, one in seven children report having been victims of online bullying and stalking, especially on social networks. According to Eurostat, only 58% of young people aged 16-24 in Bulgaria have basic or advanced digital skills, which is significantly below the EU average of 80%.

"Solving these massive challenges requires a united effort of the whole of society, targeted multi-sectoral efforts and investments. Every child in Bulgaria should have effective and quality access to programmes and services to prevent and improve online safety and digital skills, as well as to specialised survivor support services," said Christina de Bruin, UNICEF Representative in Bulgaria.

Кристина де Бройн, представител на УНИЦЕФ в България
UNICEF Bulgaria/2023/Yotova

"The digital transition requires a comprehensive action plan to ensure effective protection and support. The process of building digital skills, supported by the availability of existing legislation and infrastructure, will create an environment in which children and young people can make the most of the opportunities of the digital decade. Only by working together can we achieve better outcomes- for our children and their more secure future.", commented Ms. Maria Gabriel, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs.

International standards and the model for improving national efforts to prevent and respond to online sexual exploitation and abuse of children of the Global Alliance WeProtect, of which Bulgaria is a part, were also presented during the conference. The model also contains a tool and guidelines for self-assessment of national policies and improved coordination between different actors and sectors.

"A number of key ministries, agencies, NGOs, the private sector, IT industry representatives and the media have made commitments. This clearly shows that the public understands the issues and is looking for a whole systems approach. What is needed is better connectivity of the different programmes, a systematic long-term model that can attract adequate funding, integrated policies at national and local level, effective enforcement and an increase in digital skills and quality of digital services," said the Chairperson of the National Assembly and patron of the conference Mr. Rosen Zhelyazkov.

During the forum, a number of examples of successful policies, initiatives and projects that aim to make the web safer and improve children's digital skills were also presented. The need to promote and extend the reach of existing programmes and services to support not only children, but also their parents and professionals working with them were highlighted as ongoing challenges and recommendations. For example, there is still no sustainable funding mechanism for the activities of the Safer Internet Centre, which makes it difficult to sustain its work.

Children and young people from the Children's Council at the SACP, the Youth Network "Megaphone" at the National Network for Children and the youth panel of the Safer Internet Center also took part in the discussions and shared that for them the topic of violence, aggression, including cyberbullying, grooming and sexual blackmail are important and relevant topics. They believe that we need to talk more about those topics, especially about the need for information on where to seek help if a child becomes a victim of online violence or sexual exploitation and abuse.  

To seek support and/or report a crime, you can contact:

116 111 - Bulgarian National Helpline for Children

124 123 - Online Safety Hotline

The Cybercrime Directorate of the Directorate General for Combating Organised Crime at report@cybercrime.bg  / 0885 525 545.

The outcome of the national conference will be summarized and sent to the National Assembly, responsible ministries and agencies to be used in the process of developing and improving national legislation and policies including the National Strategy for the Child (2024 – 2030) and the Action Plan for 2025-2026 for the implementation of the National programme for prevention of violence and child abuse 2023 – 2026.

Media contacts

Boryana Gidikova
Communication Officer
UNICEF Bulgaria
Tel: +359 893 52 52 40

About UNICEF
UNICEF works in some of the world's toughest places, to reach the world's most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone. For more information about UNICEF and its work, visit: www.unicef.org/Bulgaria