UNICEF: More efforts needed to protect children online

06 February 2024
Person holding a smartphone
UNICEF North Macedonia / 2023

SKOPJE, 6 February 2024: This Safer Internet Day, a global initiative to promote a safer and better internet for all users, especially children and young people, UNICEF calls on all stakeholders to increase efforts to protect children against the growing risks online.

More than 400 children and young people from North Macedonia took part in a U-Report poll on online safety conducted in 2023. One in three (31 per cent) of the respondents reported having experienced online bullying. Many, 18 per cent recognize that lack of knowledge and information on how to stay protected is one of the reasons why online violence persists, while as many as 41 per cent believe that it is not taken seriously by institutions.

Growing up online offers limitless opportunities for critical learning, skills development and to express themselves. According to latest data (SSO, 2023) every (100 per cent) young person aged 15-24 in our country uses the internet and almost all (97 per cent) use it several times every day.  

However, increasing amounts of time on virtual platforms can also leave children more vulnerable to cyberbullying and other forms of peer-to-peer violence, hate speech and exposure to harmful content – including messages that incite self-harm and even suicide.

Most alarming is the increased threat of sexual abuse and exploitation including grooming and child trafficking. Data from Disrupting Harm – a large scale research project - estimates that millions of children were subjected to online child sexual exploitation and abuse across the thirteen  countries participating in the research in 2020 alone.

Children need support to become responsible digital citizens, parents need to be equipped with skills to discuss sensitive issues with their children and authorities have the power to ensure systems are in place to protect children’s rights online.

In its most recent report (2022) the Committee on the Rights of the Child welcomes measures taken by the country to combat violence against children, including legal reforms, adoption of the new national action plans and the ratification of additional international conventions.  However, it urges the country to develop targeted response to online child sexual abuse and exploitation.

The Committee also points to the need of allocating sufficient human and technical and financial resources to implement the National strategy for the prevention and protection of children from violence (2020–2025) and establishing mandatory reporting system, child-friendly and multiagency investigation, and intervention in all cases of violence against children – including in the digital environment.

The 2023 report on country’s progress towards EU accession,  the European Commission, also points to the need for further efforts to raise awareness of violence against children among the public and professionals. Keeping children informed and engaged about the risks, in a way that matches their evolving capacities, is a critical defense and also one of the cornerstones of the Committee on the Rights of the Child guidance on children’s rights in relation to the digital environment.

Protecting children against online violence requires a holistic approach, synergy between the public and the private sector, as well as inclusion and participation of the young people. Cooperation between health, education, and protection sectors is critical to deliver education programme for children and parents including access to helplines; and services across all sectors need to be trauma informed so professionals can seek out warning signs of violence and enable them to respond accordingly. Businesses have a responsibility to respect and support children’s rights through their products and services and ensure children’s right to protection from violence is embedded in their business practices.

This Safer Internet Day, UNICEF is also encouraging children and young people aged 14 – 24 to continue to have their voice heard and take part in a new (2024) U-Report poll on Safer Internet Day to share their opinions and experiences online, find out more about their rights in the digital environment and learn practical ways on how they can stay safer online. 

Media contacts

Suzie Pappas Capovska
Tel: (02) 3231-244
Irina Ivanovska
Tel: (02) 3231-172

About UNICEF

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.

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