Zimbabwe Shines a Light on Safer Internet Day
This week Zimbabwe joins a global movement for a better internet by celebrating Safer Internet Day on 11th February.
Harare, Zimbabwe-Today the internet touches every part of our lives. Whether buying our groceries on mobile money apps, sending emails, scrolling through Instagram, ‘swiping’ left or right on dating apps, binge watching our favourite series, or just chatting to friends and family around the country or world – the internet is integral to our everyday functioning.
In parallel, over the past 20 years, internet technology has dramatically impacted the way in which children learn, interact with each other and the wider world, and are entertained. The continuous evolution of television, smartphones, social networks and videogames is a double-edged sword which can be as detrimental at it can be beneficial.
In many ways, we are learning as we go. At national and global levels there is a growing demand for setting rules, regulations and policies around internet use and security as well as managing our own privacy, use and interaction with the internet and how our children are living in an ever- connected society.
This week Zimbabwe joins a global movement for a better internet by celebrating Safer Internet Day on 11th February. An event now celebrated by more than 150 countries worldwide, Safer Internet Day aims to raise awareness of emerging online issues affecting children from cyberbullying and online child sexual abuse to social networking and online learning opportunities. Around the world, people will celebrate the important opportunities that the internet offers children while also acknowledging the unique risks that it poses.
Under the leadership of the Ministry of Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services, and the Zimbabwe Republic Police, and with the support of the United Kingdom Department for International Development, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Zimbabwe has made notable strides in raising awareness about child online safety.
At the Global Summit on combatting online child sexual abuse held in Addis Ababa from 11-12 December 2019, Zimbabwe pledged its commitment to join the international community in this global fight by signing the WeProtect Statement of Action. In line with this pledge, which was initiated by the UK Government in 2014, Zimbabwe has also formed a taskforce for child online protection (ZICOP), which under the auspices of the Ministry of Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services is the host of Safer Internet Day in Zimbabwe.
For children in Zimbabwe and globally, living in a digital world provides unprecedented opportunities to learn and be informed, to create, inspire and share their lives online. The Postal & Telecommunications Regulatory Authority reports that Zimbabwe has a mobile penetration rate exceeding 90 percent, an internet penetration rate of 62.9 percent, and 8.7 million active internet subscriptions. Thanks to the rapidly expanding network coverage in the country, Zimbabwean children, like children elsewhere in the world, are regularly engaging with others and online content through mobile phones and the internet.
While the Internet provides important opportunities for children to learn, communicate and create, it offers a new realm for violence and abuse against children. Violence and abuse are no longer restricted to homes, schools and communities but now occurs online environment.
Children face many cyber-specific risks and dangers online. Cyberbullying is a major concern and occurs when children use online devices to harass, shame or hurt other children verbally. We have an internet where children have easy exposure to inappropriate and harmful content such as violence, pornography and xenophobic material and the internet provides a place for sexual grooming of children by adults. We know the internet now is a hotspot for production and sharing of child sexual abuse material (‘child pornography’) online and children today are sharing highly personal information including sexualised images/videos.
Safer Internet Day is about recognising the delicate balance that come with internet use, and working together to ensure that the internet is safe and stimulating for everyone.
According to UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children Report 2017 ‘Children in a Digital World’, children and adolescents below the age of 18 years constitute one third of internet users worldwide.
This is evidence that it is more important than ever to teach our children how to be informed digital citizens. Parents can do this by fostering open communication with children about how technology can and should be used and by setting clear expectations and boundaries. It is essential to keep communicating with children in open and honest ways and let them know that they can always approach parents or caregivers if something online makes them uncomfortable or it potentially dangerous.
Let us use Safer Internet Day to create a safe and empowering environment for Zimbabwe’s children online. It is our collective responsibility to facilitate a space in which all children in Zimbabwe can live a life free from abuse and violence, enjoy and demand equal rights and opportunities on the internet.
If you suspect child online violence, call ChildLine at 116 or message them on WhatsApp at 0716 116 116 or 0732 116 116.