Safer Internet Day (SID) 2018 is being celebrated with the theme “Create, connect and share respect: A better Internet starts with you.”
At ITU, the United Nations agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs), we are celebrating 10 years of building a safer Internet for children through our Child Online Protection (COP) programme.
COP takes a holistic approach to promoting children’s online safety by developing strategies that span five key areas:
The initiative works with partners to develop cybersecurity strategies across these areas and promote safe online environments for children around the world. Through sets of guidelines, resource toolkits, and activities with our partners, ITU is working hard to minimize risks to children online and to ensure that the Internet brings benefit to all users.
ITU launched the Child Online Protection (COP) Initiative in November 2008 as a multi-stakeholder effort within the Global Cybersecurity Agenda (GCA) framework. The initiative brings together partners from all sectors of the global community to create a safe and empowering online experience for children around the world. COP was presented to the ITU Council in 2008 and endorsed by the UN Secretary-General, Heads of State, Ministers and heads of international organisations from around the world.
We are proud of the progress we have made and look forward to continuing this important programme.
What is ITU doing to protect children online?
ITU is continuing the COP initiative as a platform to raise awareness on child online safety issues; ITU is continuing to assist and support the Member States, especially developing countries, in developing and implementing roadmaps for the COP initiative; ITU is continuing to be the Secretariat of the Council Working Group on Child Online Protection has an important platform to plan in shaping the policies that will influence the next generation.
This group is open to all relevant stakeholders and we believe that through partnership and by joining forces we can strengthen the impact of our actions at the regional and global level.
Since 2015, ITU has conducted a series of online youth consultations to help us understand how we can make their online experience more empowering and safer, thus we can be more responsive to their needs through legislation, advocacy and policymaking.
Since 2016, these consultations have been run in partnership with RErights.org, and have focused on cyberbullying and children’s digital literacy. In 2017, we also conducted a survey of adult stakeholders in 21 countries to canvass their views on how to better support children’s digital literacy.
Protecting children online is a global challenge, which requires a global approach. While many efforts to improve child online protection are already under way, their reach has been more national than global.
What is needed to ensure the Internet remains safe for users?
Our consultation with children to date has shown that, in many parts of the world, they have a good understanding of some of the risks they face online. Our 2016 study of children’s understandings of cyberbullying showed that the majority are able to distinguish cyberbullying from joking or teasing online. They generally recognise that cyberbullying is systematic behavior that has a public dimension and is designed to harm.
This corroborates recent research conducted by UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children team and the RErights.org team with children in 26 countries. However, while it might be deduced that efforts to skill children to manage online risks are effective, there is still scope to raise the awareness of many more children around the world, particularly among vulnerable groups, and our efforts must focus on these children in a more concerted way. Further, our research also shows that there is scope to improve children’s awareness of support services for those who are victims of cyberbullying and other forms of online risks.
There are many challenges ahead. Both children and adults report that the digital divide – unequal access to quality infrastructure, devices and platforms – is an ongoing concern and requires dedicated investment and creative solutions. Children in these settings are coming online in greater and greater numbers but many do not benefit from appropriate forms of guidance from parents, teachers and other significant adults. This continues to place children at risk.
For those who do have access, the rate of technological change presents challenges. Many children already navigate a complex digital media landscape. Developments in artificial intelligence and machine learning, virtual and augmented reality, big data, robotics and the Internet of Things are set to transform children’s media practices even further.
As our survey of adult stakeholders identified, it is critical that the global community plan for and think through the consequences of these developments for children and find ways to support them to develop the necessary digital literacies not just to survive but to thrive in the digital future. To do so, the global community must invest further in the digital skills and literacies of parents and teachers. We must also find ways to support children to develop the critical thinking and evaluative skills to enable them to navigate fast-paced flows of information of varying quality.
Our consultations have demonstrated that some countries still struggle to allocate sufficient resources to tackling the digital literacy and safety of children online. However, children report that parents, teachers, technology companies and governments are all important players in developing solutions to support their online safety. And our survey of member states indicates that there is significant support for enhanced knowledge sharing and coordinated efforts to secure the safety of greater numbers of children online.
Our Member States also indicated that, while protecting children online must continue to be a priority, this must be carefully balanced with efforts to promote opportunities for children online. In doing so, we can ensure their rights to safety while also creating the conditions under which they can participate in and benefit from the digital world.