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South Africa, 25 October 2011: Survey on social networking and safety for children and youth

© UNICEF South Africa/2011
In a recent survey, more than a quarter of young South African mobile Internet users said they had experienced some form of cyber-bullying.

PRETORIA, South Africa, 25 October 2011 – Ask the parents of average South African teenagers what their children are up to in the evenings, and many will tell you that their sons or daughters are probably typing away on their cell phones on South Africa’s largest social network, MXit.

In a recent survey conducted by UNICEF – in partnership with the Berkman Centre for Internet and Society at Harvard University, MXit and the University of Cape Town – 30 per cent of MXit users admitted to spending most of their after-school time socializing on the platform.

MXit is designed for young people over the age of 13, and the majority of users are aged 18 to 25. A total of 25,876 South African youths took part in the survey, in which users answered an electronic questionnaire.

Emphasis on safety

The study is part of a global campaign undertaken by UNICEF to raise awareness about the optimal and safe use of information and communication technologies, or ICTs. The campaign, known as the Digital Citizenship and Safety Project, seeks to measure the impact of ICTs on children’s lives.

UNICEF believes that ICTs have the potential to empower children and young people – particularly in the developing world – in line with the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. But access should be accompanied by education and regulation to ensure that children’s safety is not compromised.

The UNICEF and MXit survey revealed that 75 per cent of respondents talk to strangers at least once a week, while 42 per cent do so every day. When asked what they do most at home, 30 per cent said they chat on the mobile platform.

Potential risks

The high frequency with which MXit users are interacting with strangers highlights the need for parents, children’s organizations and peer groups to engage with young people about the potential risks of the digital world – and how to avoid them.

© UNICEF South Africa/2011
UNICEF and MXit have teamed up to create the Red Card, a free portal on child rights with Internet safety guidelines.

In 2010, UNICEF teamed up with MXit to create the Red Card, a free portal on child rights with ICT safety guidelines. It has been added by over 51,000 MXit users to date.

“Children are incredibly adept at figuring out new technologies,” said UNICEF Representative in South Africa Aida Girma. “While they may have technical knowledge, they are not always aware of some of the implications of using the technology. UNICEF is committed to ensuring that young people not only benefit from innovation, but they are safe from anyone seeking to exploit them through these platforms.”

Prevalence of cyber-bullying

Social media and mobile phones have also made young people vulnerable to new means of bullying and victimization. The survey found that 26 per cent of respondents had been insulted or experienced some form of cyber-bullying. Race, location and gender emerged as the most common reasons for insult.

The study also hinted at a continuing regional disparity in access to mobile Internet in South Africa, since around 90 per cent of respondents identified themselves as ‘urban’. Although mobile penetration in South Africa is the highest on the continent – and the mobile phone is increasingly most people’s connection to the Internet – the survey data suggest that youth in rural areas are not benefitting as much from Internet access as are their urban peers.

Click here  to read the full study.



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