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How are children in developing countries protected online?

Monday 22 February 2016, by SIGNIS

London, Brussels, February 22nd, 2016 (The Guardian/UNICEF/SIGNIS). Technology is transforming the lives of children and young people all over the world but stakeholders need to work together to ensure the benefits outweigh the risks. Around one in three internet users in the world is under 18. Millions more will soon be connected, with the United Nations calling for universal internet access in the least developed countries by 2020. But how can the socio-economic benefits of connectivity for children in developing countries be balanced with the risks of misuse?

Access to the Internet and mobile devices empowers young people in various areas but it also poses challenges to their wellbeing, wherever they are in the world. Unsuitable content, privacy breaches, sexual exploitation, bullying, radicalisation – the risks children face online know no boundaries.

They need to have the right digital skills to recognise inappropriate content, conduct or contact. They need their parents or teachers to be technology-literate to explain them how to use the Internet. It’s good to give Internet access to children in developing countries, but it’s important to give them the right skills and literacy to use it correctly.

One step ahead is the creation of a basic legal framework to protect online safety, to criminalise child pornography for instance. But local context cannot be ignored. Family structure, gender roles and cultural norms must be considered when developing governance frameworks. Despite many arguing that the Internet should not be censored, in some countries there might be pressure to block culturally-sensitive online content on issues such as sexual orientation and female empowerment.

Network providers, app developers and other technology companies also play an important role. As the Guidelines for Industry on Child Online Protection state, “...businesses have to strike a careful balance between children’s right to protection and their right to access to information and freedom of expression.”

For young people, the transformative potential of the internet and mobile devices is enormous but the safety challenges must be addressed. As we head towards 2020, governments, businesses, NGOs, educators, parents and other stakeholders must continue working together to help children everywhere become resilient and responsible digital citizens.

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