for every child | digital safety
While the internet has opened up a world of exploration for children, it has also made it easier for bullies, sex offenders, traffickers and abusers to find them.
One country that is particularly well connected is Malaysia. More than 7 out of 10 households have internet access, and connectivity continues to surge. The country also has one of the highest proportions of ‘digital natives’ in the world – youths aged 15 to 24 with at least five years of active internet use.
A growing challenge in Malaysia has been for parents, teachers, policy-makers and the justice system to keep pace with the increasing risks children face online.
One organization fought sexual predators by taking the technology they exploit and turning it against them – then publishing a massive exposé to widespread media attention. This reporting was a catalyst for national change. And for one connected teenager, it would be a spur to activism.
From friend to cyberbully
When Angeline was 14, a misunderstanding between her and a friend about a school project evolved into something more painful.
“He started posting terrible things [about me] online,” she says of her friend. “I was trying not to be bothered by it, [but] you end up caring more.”
Within weeks, an entire group of her friends were ignoring her at school, refusing to sit with her in classes and excluding her from the group. The effect was dizzying.
As she lost her friends and was bombarded with caustic messages – sometimes up to 10 posts a day – Angeline began to believe that she was the problem.
“I took a few screenshots and I actually saved it in my Google drive. That was how much it bothered me,” she says. “I just wanted to remind myself of how terrible of a person I was so that I could improve myself ... I had this mindset that if one person is against you, then it could be a misunderstanding ... but if a whole group is against you, there might be something wrong with you.”
Angeline credits her father with helping her through the worst of it, and eventually the bullying stopped. She and her friend even reconciled.
But Angeline says the experience changed her. “You can never take back something you said or something you posted online,” she says. “I realized how much a word can actually strike a person.”
UNICEF in Malaysia
In Malaysia, 40 per cent of internet users are children and young people under the age of 24. Bad actors can approach children through unprotected social media profiles, chatting apps and online game forums. The largest national survey on cybersafety of schoolchildren in Malaysia reveals that more than 70 per cent of children report being victims of online harassment, while 26 per cent have been cyberbullied.
UNICEF is currently on a working committee with the Government to draft guidelines on how best to handle sexual crime cases involving children. And by working with R.AGE and other partners, UNICEF is educating children across the country about online safety topics ranging from online dating to sexual violence.