Volunteers step in to make online spaces safe
Eighteen-year-old NCC volunteer, Subhit Dutta, and other volunteers are fighting online bullying
Subhit is among the 2,000 NCC volunteers from seven districts of Assam, who participated in a series of online group discussions supported by UNICEF Assam, which were facilitated by partner, We Are Young (WAY) Foundation.
These discussions were held to help understand issues that children and young people were facing due to the nation-wide lockdown and other restrictions because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A unanimous issue that emerged among half of the 15 to 22-year-olds who participated was that of online safety.In a region which has low internet coverage, and the primary mode of learning remains the traditional classroom, the concept of digital literacy was an alien concept along with the associated challenges of engagement in online spaces.
During the online discussions, volunteers including Subhit, spoke about feeling unsafe and the lack of privacy by engaging online for everything – studies, speaking to friends, interacting on social media, among others. More than 60 per cent of the participants agreed that they were not aware of the correct mechanisms and safety measures to report or tackle online harassment.
To improve the knowledge and understanding of young people across the Northeast on protection and safeguarding mechanisms, capacity building workshops were held in early 2021 with the NCC and another 1,000 National Service Scheme (NSS) volunteers and 500 Program Officers on child rights and child protection, especially around new, emergent issues due to the pandemic.
As a result, participants were encouraged to take simple Social Action Projects (SAPs) by approaching their peers and initiating focus group sessions – where they shared experiences of online bullying and trolling, and what they did to mitigate it.
Sukanya Kashyap, another 16-year-old NCC volunteer from Guwahati, Assam, realized that online bullying faced by some of her peers caused mental stress and as a result, they had taken up unhealthy coping mechanisms (smoking, drinking, etc.).
Taking the situation in stride, Sukanya along with her friends started an online campaign called #StressInPandemic. The objective was to create awareness on the issue and in their teachers and keeping each other safe from online predators.
Divya Sarma, 21 yrs, and an active NSS volunteer from Sikkim, raised awareness on online safety through one-on-one calls with her peers after the workshops. She leveraged the different forms of social media content, co-creating several reels, poems, posters, and selfie posters with her friends to reach out to teenage girls and build their awareness on online safety.
Similarly, NSS volunteer from Sikkim, Sujit Kumar Rawat, 19 yrs, created a ‘volunteer gang’ consisting of his friends, who reached over 200 students during the lockdown, building awareness on online bullying, through posters and encouraging 200 students to undertake further dialogue on the issue.
Esther F Vansawmpuii, 23 yrs, who is a Social Work student and a NSS volunteer from Mizoram, created more than 100 pieces of content on social media on the issue of online bullying, reaching out to more than 5,000 people in the process.
For UNICEF, the aim for this engagement was to create a cohort of volunteers who supported children’s rights and co-created content, communication for digital and social media, for amplifying issues that are priority for them.
Moving forward, in 2022, building on the youth engagement strategy for UNICEF Assam office, the institutional curriculums of NSS and NCC platforms will integrate issues linked to violence against children, and a U-Report survey will be undertaken to (a) create awareness on the forms of VAC and redressal mechanisms, and (b) collect opinions that would be collated in the form of a White Paper to the presented to the Government, to support child-centric policy and budgetary allocations.