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

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

Ha Noi, Viet Nam, 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 released today.

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. 

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.

© Truong Viet Hung
It’s undeniable that digital technology has already changed the youngest generation’s lives and life chances. If leveraged in the right way and universally accessible, digital technology can also be a game changer for children being left behind.

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.

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.

And 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 report 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.

“It’s undeniable that digital technology has already changed the youngest generation’s lives and life chances. If leveraged in the right way and universally accessible, digital technology can also be a game changer for children being left behind – children with disabilities, children from ethnic minorities and those living in poor and hard-to-reach areas – connecting them to a world of opportunity and providing them with the skills they need to succeed in a digital world” said Youssouf Abdel-Jelil, UNICEF Representative in Viet Nam.

Since Viet Nam officially connected to the internet in 1997, the country has made impressive strides with 64 million Internet users as of June 2017, accounting for 67 per cent of the population. Viet Nam is also listed among countries with the highest number of Internet users in Asia. Social media are widespread with 64,000,000 Facebook subscribers, among them, the large number are children and young people.

an international opinion poll of more than 10,000 18-year-olds from 25 countries which was carried out by UNICEF in 2016, 72 per cent of Vietnamese youth aged 15-24 connected to the internet. Vietnamese 18-year-olds value online security and recognize the risks posed by the internet as 74 per cent of them believe young people are in danger of online sexual abuse.

“I would encourage relevant agencies to act together to make internet safe for children, so that it will serve children’s learning purposes and inspires them to be creative. It’s especially important to teach children necessary skills to stay safe online. It’s also essential to put children in the centre in policy making on those related to digital technology”, said Ms. Dao Hong Lan, Vice Minister of Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs.

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.

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.

“Protecting children online doesn’t mean exerting more control over the internet. it’s about keeping children safe, and governments must work hand in hand with the private sector to keep up with the pace of change and protect children from the new risks and harms they are exposed to, especially for the most disadvantaged ones” said Youssouf Abdel-Jelil, UNICEF Representative in Viet Nam.

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