Threats & Opportunities on today’s Net for children

 

Threats & Opportunities on today’s Net for children

Global News 00:50

13-12-11_child_safety_online_cover

FLORENCE/ GENEVA/ HONG KONG, 13 December 2011 – Although offering more opportunities for education and information than anything before it, the Internet has also amplified the scale and potential of threats to children, says a new report from UNICEF’s Innocenti Research Centre.

Child Safety online: Global challenges and strategies aims to provide a better understanding of the risks faced by young people online, and presents a framework for protecting them from the triple-headed dangers of child abuse images, online grooming and cyberbullying.

“The rapid growth of the online world has not created crimes involving sexual abuse and exploitation of children, but it has increased their scale and reach for potentially causing harm,” says UNICEF’s Director of the Office of Research, Gordon Alexander. “We need to recognise this, and take as many appropriate measures as possible, while still respecting the rights of children to explore the new environment and potential that the technology provides.”

Child Safety online: Global challenges and strategies stresses the enormous benefits of the Internet in terms of education, socialisation and entertainment, and the rights of children to access those advantages.

On 5 July, J8 youth delegates review their work on a laptop computer, at the Citizens' Cultural Centre in the city of Chitose on Hokkaido Island. They are: (left-right) Antoine Marie Oliver Bertrand-Hardy of France, Miho Kikuchi of Japan, Alexander Mario Wegner of Germany, Sergey Kononenko of the Russian Federation, Rose Elizabeth Stuart of the United Kingdom, Marco Zabai of Italy, and Nondumiso Thandeka Nkosi of South Africa.  From 2 to 9 July 2008 in Japan, 39 young people from around the world gathered in the city of Chitose on Hokkaido Island for the Junior 8 (J8) Summit, hosted by the Government of Japan and UNICEF. The meeting parallels the annual summit of Heads of State/Government from Group of 8 (G8) countries, also hosted on Hokkaido Island this year. G8 countries are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. The J8 Summit provides a platform for young people to discuss global issues, advocate for solutions and actions from world leaders and foster a global youth movement around international issues. Participants, aged 13 to 17, are from all of the G8 countries. Young people from seven developing countries, Barbados, Côte dIvoire, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal and South Africa, also participated. The meeting focused on three principal G8 topics: climate change and global warming; poverty and development; and global health, particularly child survival and infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS. On 7 July, J8 delegates, selected by their peers, presented their recommendations to G8 leaders at their meeting venue in the nearby town of Toyako. The recommendations asked that world leaders listen to young people and outlined specific proposals to reduce global warming (including the creation of Green Indexes to evaluate the climate-impact of products produced globally); reduce global poverty (including by supporting child rights and conflict resolution); and increase positive health initiatives worldwide (including education on disease prevention and G8 matching funds for developing country health sectors).The research, conducted in partnership with the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) in the UK, pinpoints four areas that need to come together to create a safer environment for children on the net: empowering children to protect themselves; removing the impunity of abusers; reducing the availability and access to harm; and support for the recovery of victims.

The first line of defence – empowering children – is fundamental to tackling the problem, not least because children are generally considerably more Internet-savvy than their parents and teachers, and have a different perceptions from adults of the risks they face.

Many children know how to block or firewall their sites, and it is friends who are the first ports of call when difficulties arise, rather than adults, who have less understanding of the fast-changing technology and may curtail online freedoms.

Mobile phones are overtaking personal computers as the favoured gateway for Internet access for children, illustrating the point. But the advancement in technology, with faster broadband and cheap webcams as well, also provides added opportunities for abusers.

The report notes that effective global legislation and enforcement are vital elements of protection, but at national level, implementation of laws has been slow in many countries, and where it has been enacted, it often lacks harmonisation, particularly in areas such as the definition of a “child”, and of pornography. Of 196 countries reviewed, only 45 have legislation sufficient to combat child abuse image offences. Removing abusers’ impunity should be another focus of attention; a challenge made harder by the borderless nature of the crimes.

Childs View  A man teaches computer skills to a girl at the Al Qattan Centre for the Child in Gaza City, in the Gaza Strip. The photograph was taken by Hedab Abu-Rass, 18, one of 19 participants in a UNICEF-organized child photography workshop.  In August 2009 in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), UNICEF held photography workshops for children in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The workshops overarching theme was child rights, part of global tributes to the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child on 20 November of this year. In the Gaza Strip, the workshop was held in Gaza City with 19 young people, aged 12-19, at the Al Qattan Centre for the Child, a local UNICEF-assisted cultural and educational NGO. Guided by UNICEF photographer Giacomo Pirozzi, participants selected their own topics to photograph, including: examples of the local culture and industry; health and leisure activities; activities at the Al Qattan Centre; and the continuing impact of the December 2008-January 2009 Israeli military incursion into Gaza. The conflict killed 1,300 Gazans, including 350 children, and destroyed much of the infrastructure. Rebuilding has been severely constrained by an economic embargo, in effect since 2007, that blocks critical materials from entering the Strip and has left 80 per cent of its refugees dependent on food assistance from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the largest provider of humanitarian assistance in the territory.Legislation is, however, only one part of the answerand parents, teachers, social workers, the police and industry all have a role to play in supporting children’s endeavours to protect themselves, says the report. Industry also has a role to play in removing inappropriate material from servers and providing child-friendly hardware and software that enables offensive images to be blocked or filtered.

 

In 2010 the Internet Watch Foundation identified and took action against some 16,700 instances of child sexual abuse content on different web pages worldwide. There are estimated to be millions of such images online, depicting “tens of thousands” of children. The age of child subjects is also getting lower, with 73 percent of victims appearing to be under ten-years-old; and images are becoming more graphic and violent.

 

The figures demonstrate the enormity of the challenge, but the report is pragmatic: “It is not possible to remove all risks that exist in the online environment. It is a space too huge, ungoverned, evolving, growing ad creative to ever be subject to the type of controls that would be necessary to fully protect children. Nor is it desirable that such control is sought, because total control would destroy the essence of the Internet and its many benefits.”