Make the digital world safer for children – while increasing online access to benefit the most disadvantaged

12 December 2017
Michel Saint-Lot presenting the report with the other participants
UNICEF Serbia/2017/Vas

New York/Belgrade, 12 December 2017 – Despite children’s massive online presence – 1 in 3 internet users worldwide is a child – too little is done to protect them from the perils of the digital world and to increase their access to safe online content, UNICEF said in its annual flagship report.

The State of the World’s Children 2017: Children in a digital world 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.

“Digital technology is now an irreversible fact of our lives. In a digital world, our dual challenge is how to mitigate the harms while maximizing the benefits of the internet for every child. The internet was designed for adults, but it is increasingly used by children and young people – and digital technology increasingly affects their lives and futures. So, digital policies, practices, and products should better reflect children’s needs, children’s perspectives and children’s voices,” said Michel Saint-Lot, UNICEF Representative in Serbia.

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.

But the report shows that millions of children are missing out.

Around one third of the world’s youth – 346 million – are not online, exacerbating inequities and reducing children’s ability to participate in an increasingly digital economy.

“Children and young people are at the heart of the policies that the Republic of Serbia is implementing to strengthen digital safety, as they are the most vulnerable group of users of digital technologies. They must be prepared for the upcoming expansion of the global digital revolution, and are therefore a priority in the digital literacy and digital skills development programmes.

The Ministry of Telecommunications has established a legal framework for the protection of children in the digital world, as well as a mechanism in the form of a National Contact Center for Child Safety on the Internet. The Ministry also conducts a series of educational programmes, as well as infrastructure projects to provide free and safe internet in schools,” said Tatjana Matic, State Secretary at the Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications.

The report also examines 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 Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development continuously implements simultaneous activities that focus both on pupils and teachers. Digital literacy is part of the curriculum of the newly introduced subject in primary schools - Informatics and Computing. We are working to introduce electronic textbooks in order to make education more accessible and equitable.

We initiated teacher trainings, based on the Framework for the Digital Competences of Teachers – A Teacher for the Digital Age. 1,500 teachers have improved their digital competencies in 2017, and in cooperation with the Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications, 2,000 teachers will be included in this programme in 2018,” said Anamarija Vicek, State Secretary at the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development.

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.

Only collective action – by governments, the private sector, children’s organizations, academia, families and children themselves – can help level the digital playing field and make the internet safer and more accessible for children, the report says.

The Report presents 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.

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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.

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