2021 Safer Internet Day: A safer internet experience for children and young people

09 February 2021
A mother helping her child with school work on their laptop
UNICEF Malawi/2020

9 February 2021- The Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) the ICT Association of Malawi (ICTAM), Plan International Malawi, YONECO and UNICEF Malawi are calling for a safer digital experience for children and young people as the world commemorates Safer Internet Day.

Every day, a child goes online for the first time – tapping into the great opportunities the internet has to offer but faces grave risks of cyberbullying, the misuse of their private information and sexual exploitation. New technologies are easing the production and proliferation of child abuse material, with new exploitative activities appearing such as the live streaming of child sexual abuse on demand. Child online safety is no longer an option but a priority.

A 2019 MACRA and National Statistical Office survey found that of the Malawian children aged 9 to 17 years who reported that they had access to the internet, 28 per cent said they had been bothered or felt upset by something that happened to them online. The survey also reported that 53 per cent of the children had received or seen sexual messages (pictures or videos).

This year’s Safer Internet Day theme “Online wellbeing and digital resilience” is aimed at enhancing digital literacy, which is the ability to find, evaluate, utilise, share and create content using information technologies and the Internet. Digital literacy is an important entitlement for all children and young people in an increasingly digital culture.

The theme also highlights the important aspect of online wellbeing- to help people build a healthy relationship with technology and recognize the impact that being online can have on emotions, mental wellbeing and even on physical health and knowing what to do if something goes wrong.

MACRA is calling on all stakeholders in the Information Communication and Technology industry to support children and young people to achieve digital resilience through their respective corporate messages and extensive awareness on online safety, responsible digital citizenship, fake news and online fraud and scams.

In 2018, Malawi set up a committee comprising civil society, Government, the academia and private sector representatives to address online safety issues. Considerable progress has been made in recent years in addressing risks and harms while maximizing opportunities offered by new technologies to prevent online abuse and empower children. We all need to scale up these efforts to develop an empowering, safe and inclusive digital agenda for children.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on everyday functioning of society and the information, communications and technologies industry has not been spared. Due to the COVID- 19 pandemic, nations have been placed under lockdown with schools and social avenues shut down. This saw up to 1.6 billion children affected by school closures, causing the largest mass disruption of education in modern history. To address these gaps, more than 90 per cent of the world’s education ministries including in Malawi have adopted some type of remote learning policy, and stakeholders have sought to “reimagine education” by harnessing technology.

As the pandemic enters its second year, there’s no doubt that the Internet and technology will continue to play an elevated role in the lives of millions of children. On this Safer Internet Day, we have an opportunity to reimagine a safer world for children online, and one that prioritizes and protects their physical and mental well-being.” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affirmed the notion that access to digital and online platform is no longer a luxury but a priority for all. Bridging the digital divide between us and the increasingly internet connected world must be a focus for both Government and the private sector to support growth and reduce poverty by embracing ICT to the core. Together we can create a better internet for Malawi and for us all.

The planned activities to commemorate the day are a press briefing, panel discussion, TV and radio programmes, webinars and school outreach programmes.

For online safety tips for parents and further information on how to stop cyberbullying, please follow these links;

Media contacts

Rebecca Phwitiko
Communications Officer
UNICEF Malawi
Tel: 0999282723

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