SKOPJE, 29 January 2020: Recent events regarding the group created on “Telegram” where the exchange of content including unauthorised photographic and video footage of minors and young girls, is an alarm for more concerted inter-sectoral action to protect children and young people from the dangers posed by online violence, cyberbullying and digital harassment.
The Internet has become a fixture of young people’s lives regardless of income level. According to the most recent data available from the State Statistics Office, 100 per cent of young people aged 15-24 in North Macedonia uses the internet; with 96 per cent of them using it every day or almost every day; 90 per cent participate in social networks, 94 per cent use instant messaging and 95 per cent upload self-created content. This is well ahead of the pace of Internet usage among other age groups.
In addition to the internet having so many benefits, this online proliferation comes with increased risk - as seen with the recent developments – that can cause profound harm as content can quickly reach a wide audience and can remain accessible online indefinitely. Online violence, cyberbullying and digital harassment feed into each other, forming a continuum of damaging behaviour.
UNICEF calls on authorities to take more concerted inter-sectoral action to protect children and young people from violence including cyberviolence. Among the actions needed include:
- Increased cooperation between health, education and protection sectors to deliver programme for adolescent mental health and programmes to prevent the intergenerational transmission of violence and adversities, including parenting programmes to build parent’s ability to engage with children and young people openly in conversations on adolescent development including online safety.
- Investment in online safety education programmes for children and young people that go beyond education on data protection. Children and young people need to understand the risks as well as the benefits, involved in engaging online, that by nature the internet is not private and is permanent. Furthermore, they need meaningful support to prevent them from engaging in risky behaviour and treating each other with disrespect in all settings including on the internet.
- Investment in trauma informed schools and professional services. There is need for professional learning that equips and empowers school staff in particular to seek out warning signs of violence and enable them to respond accordingly. Teachers and school psychologists need to be able to engage in open conversations with children about issues such as bullying, emotional distress, anxiety, and self-esteem.
- The public and professionals need to be equipped and empowered to recognise that children are children first, they must be mindful not to shame, label, victimize, or revictimize children. All children must be treated using the best interest principle.
In November 2019, the Government made a formal pledge to join the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children. UNICEF is calling on the Government to put ending cyberviolence among the first priority actions to strengthen prevention, mitigation and target response to violence against children.
While reporting on this or any other similar cases, UNICEF urges journalists to refrain from reproducing the images in their articles and encourages the public and public figures making statements to refrain from using these images to amplify their messages, understanding that by doing so, they are increasing the circulation of these personal images.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.mk.