ITU’s Regional Office for Africa is committed to assisting countries develop a comprehensive Child Online Protection (COP) response that involves action from a diversity of governmental and non-governmental stakeholders across a range of sectors. We are ready to engage with countries in the African region in the design and implementation of effective COP strategies.
ITU is committed to connecting children around the world safely and responsibly. The Internet and Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) open a world of possibilities for children, providing them with opportunities to learn, expand their horizons, and participate in society. In parallel however, ICTs can also expose children and young people to risks that may be simply considered as the digital extension of existing offline threats.
In order to ensure that children in Africa enjoy the best years of their online childhood safely and are given the opportunity to become responsible leaders and cyber citizens, it is vital that all stakeholders are made aware of both the opportunities as well as the pitfalls that come with being online.
Online connectivity of children and young people is growing. Although, levels of Internet access are highest in the industrialized world, Africa is quickly catching up. In most countries for which data is available, children under the age of 18 make up a high percentage of the total number of people online. The youth bulge in Africa and developing economies is becoming a core driver of networked children, who often referred to as digital natives; 15 to 24 year olds with five or more years of experience online.
According to the 2013 Measuring the Information Society (MIS) Report, young people are almost twice as networked as the global population as a whole. In developing countries, digital natives are vigorously leading their nation’s Internet use and the digital native population will more than double within the next five years.
Sub-Saharan Africa is currently undergoing a mobile digital revolution where consumers, networks and even media companies are waking up the possibilities of 3G and 4G technology. Mobile phones are becoming more popular than desktop computers with young people as they have the capacity to be connected when on the move, and be in constant contact with friends in their homes, at school and during all waking hours. This merged environment has profound implications for the nature of risk, vulnerability and potential harm.
According to ITU statistics Africa mobile penetration will reach 69 per by end 2014 and it is predicted that the Africa region will register the strongest mobile-cellular growth in 2015, revealing the scale of the region’s ongoing data revolution.
As part of our commitment to ensure continued dialogue on the issue, a regional conference on Africa Child Online Protection (ACOP) – Empowering the Future Digital Citizens has been co-organized by ITU and Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) in Kampala, Uganda, from 15 to 16 Dec 2014.
Since its launch in 2008, the COP initiative has made several efforts at the regional level through the implementation of the COP Guidelines. By taking a holistic approach to ensure the protection of children online, ITU and its partners are working closely with countries such as Cameroon, Nigeria, Zambia, Ghana, Mauritius and Uganda in developing their national COP strategies.
The regional office for Africa has also taken many other significant steps to improve child online safety and awareness; one example is an e-safety pilot in Ethiopia developed in partnership with Facebook and Africa Child Online Protection Education and Awareness Centre (ACOPEA). The goal is to implement concrete awareness-raising actions – Internet Safety activities – targeting children, parents and teachers in order to empower children and young people to use the Internet and other online technologies in a safe and responsible way.
As a result of successful planning and the lessons learnt from different COP activities, the Regional office, in coordination with our COP Partners, is committed to accelerate the implementation of the COP guidelines in Africa for the empowerment and protection of children in the continent.
Raising good digital citizens is our highest calling. As policymakers and producers, as government officials and CEOs, as educators and entrepreneurs, we all are responsible. That is why Child Online Protection is so critical in the digital age in which our children are digital natives – and I hope that this will become a priority area for Africa Region.
By Andrew Rugege
Andrew Rugege is the Regional Director for the ITU’s Africa office in Addis Ababa, and is ITU’s representative to the African Union.
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