The Rights of the Child in the Digital Environment in Senegal
Editorial by Silvia Danailov, UNICEF Representative in Senegal, on the occasion of the Day of the African Child
"The Rights of the Child in the Digital Environment" is the chosen theme this year to commemorate the Day of the African Child, in remembrance of June 16, 1976, when thousands of South African students demonstrated in Soweto, demanding quality education. At that time, the apartheid regime caused the deaths and injuries of hundreds of children.
Similarly, in Senegal and elsewhere, digital technology has transformed the landscape for children. The rapid proliferation of information and communication technologies (ICT) is an unstoppable force that impacts nearly every aspect of modern life, from economies and societies to cultures, profoundly shaping our daily lives.
As children grow, the influence of digital technology on their life experiences expands. It provides limitless opportunities for learning, socializing, being heard, and counted. Connected children and youth make their voices heard through social media, blogs, videos, magazines, hashtags, and other forms of expression. They recognize the potential of digital tools to access information and seek solutions to issues affecting their communities.
Especially for children affected by poverty and exclusion, digital technology and innovation can open doors to a brighter future, offering improved access to education and other benefits that help them realize their potential and break the cycles of deprivation.
For instance, the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have accelerated the establishment of digital platforms to address educational challenges in Senegal. UNICEF is actively working to expand initiatives that promote digital education, forging partnerships with the private sector, including organizations such as the Mastercard Foundation, Free, and Nokia.
It is essential to ensure that both boys and girls have equal access to these opportunities presented by digital technology. In many places, including Senegal, girls are less likely than boys to use and own devices and have access to technology-related skills. By addressing this inequality, we can usher in a digital revolution that benefits everyone. When we create opportunities for girls, we not only expand the horizons of their dreams but also enhance the prospects for their families and communities.
This is why UNICEF is spearheading initiatives that provide young girls with the opportunity to fully harness digital advancements and remove barriers in their path. The Salmaitou initiative, supported by UNICEF, contributes to reducing the gender gap in digital access and skills across different regions of the country.
The project has empowered hundreds of girls with digital technology skills, innovation, and social entrepreneurship. The results have shown increased confidence and improved technological proficiency among participants. Although this initiative is currently operating on a limited scale, its impact on young people is extraordinary. We continue to call for the mobilization of all partners to scale up these efforts and reach more children and young people.
While acknowledging the boundless potential of digital technology, we must also recognize the significant risks it poses to children's safety, privacy, and well-being. Digital technology compounds the threats and harms that many children already face offline, making vulnerable children even more susceptible.
While ICTs have facilitated knowledge sharing and collaboration, they have also enabled the production, distribution, and sharing of explicit material that exploits and abuses children, particularly in terms of sexual abuse and exploitation. Moreover, children are exposed to inappropriate and potentially harmful content.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, misinformation about vaccination, for example, has created fear, stigmatization, and increased children's vulnerability. The dissemination of violent scenes through social media during recent demonstrations has further amplified children's anxiety and highlighted the inadequate preparedness of many parents to navigate the new challenges of the digital environment.
In collaboration with our partners, UNICEF is actively working to accelerate efforts aimed at safeguarding children from these risks. We reiterate our strong commitment to supporting Senegal in establishing robust frameworks to address the emerging risks of all forms of violence against children in the digital environment.