UNICEF report calls for a safer ‘Digital World’ for children

Flagship report highlights digital divides and explores current debates about the impact of the internet and social media on children’s safety and wellbeing

26 December 2017
The image shows a studio set up for a panel discussion
A view of the studio set up for the social media live video streaming activity about digital rights for children in Pakistan.

Islamabad, Pakistan - 26 December 2017: Governments, the digital technology sector and telecom industries globally must make expanding access to the internet and protecting children online a priority, says the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in the latest version of their annual flagship global report The State of the World’s Children (SOWC) 2017: Children in a digital world. The report was being debated at a panel discussion organized by UNICEF in Islamabad.

According to the report, 1 in 3 internet users worldwide is a child and that too little is being done to protect them from the perils of the digital world and to increase their access to safe online content. On the other hand, 346 million youth (aged 15-24) around the world are not online.

“Where we want to turn this digital gap into a digital bridge, we also want to ensure that online presence for children and youth is safe by all means,” said Melanie Galvin, Chief of Nutrition for UNICEF in Pakistan a.i. “UNICEF views it as an inequity that millions of children and youth in Pakistan and around the world are not connected to the internet which reduces their ability to participate in an increasingly digital economy.”

The SOWC 2017 presents UNICEF’s first comprehensive look at the different ways digital technology is affecting children’s lives and life chances, identifying dangers as well as opportunities.  It argues that governments and the private sector have not kept up with the pace of change, exposing children to new risks and harms and leaving millions of the most disadvantaged children behind. 

“In a country like Pakistan, progress for every child is much more dependent on safe, inclusive and widely accessible online opportunities” said Melanie Galvin. “To understand that the digital is not a need but an essential part of growing up in this world is the only way forward,” she added.

The panel comprising Samar Hasan (Founder & CEO of Epiphany), Sadaf Khan (Director Programs, Media Matters), Dr. Afshan Huma (In-charge, Department of EPPSL, Allama Iqbal Open University), and Saad Hamid (Founder, Skills First), discussed how the report explores the benefits digital technology can offer the most disadvantaged children, including those growing up in poverty or affected by humanitarian emergencies. These include increasing their access to information, building skills for the digital workplace, and giving them a platform to connect and communicate their views.

Panelists were asked questions about the report examining how the internet increases children’s vulnerability to risks and harms, including misuse of their private information, access to harmful content, and cyberbullying. The ubiquitous presence of mobile devices, the report notes, has made online access for many children less supervised – and potentially more dangerous.

The report goes beyond everyday differences that exist in the world when it comes to children and youth online or disconnected. It also questions how the digital networks like the Dark Web and cryptocurrencies are enabling the worst forms of exploitation and abuse, including trafficking and ‘made to order’ online child sexual abuse.

The SOWC 2017 presents current data and analysis about children’s online usage and the impact of digital technology on children’s wellbeing, exploring growing debates about digital “addiction” and the possible effect of screen time on brain development.

Additional facts from the report include:

  • Young people are the most connected age group. Worldwide, 71 per cent are online compared with 48 per cent of the total population. 
  • Approximately 56 per cent of all websites are in English and many children cannot find content they understand or that is culturally relevant. 

The panel agreed with UNICEF’s call to collective action – by governments, the private sector, children’s organizations, academia, families and children themselves – which can help level the digital playing field and make the internet safer and more accessible for children, the report says.

Practical recommendations to help guide more effective policymaking and more responsible business practices to benefit children include:

  • Provide all children with affordable access to high-quality online resources. 
  • Protect children from harm online – including abuse, exploitation, trafficking, cyberbullying and exposure to unsuitable materials.
  • Safeguard children’s privacy and identities online. 
  • Teach digital literacy to keep children informed, engaged and safe online.
  • Leverage the power of the private sector to advance ethical standards and practices that protect and benefit children online.
  • Put children at the centre of digital policy.


Media contacts

Abdul Sami Malik
Communication Specialist
UNICEF Pakistan
Tel: +92-300-855-6654
Tel: +92-51-209-7811


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.org

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