Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are now crucial tools for children’s education. But these new tools can bring new risks to our most vulnerable digital citizens.
For example, a new report shows that up to 1 in 6 children in the United Kingdom are online from the age of 3 or under, with 25% using the Internet before they start school. Meanwhile, six in ten children surveyed in another new report said they worry about cyber-bullying, and 16% said that cyberbullying was a bigger concern than real-life bullying.
As the United Nations specialized agency for ICTs, ITU continues to tackle these growing global risks by working with governments, the private sector, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and academia to find unified solutions to protect future generations online.
ITU’s Child Online Protection initiative
ITU launched the Child Online Protection (COP) initiative in November 2008 as a multi-stakeholder platform to create a safe and empowering online experience for children.
The COP Guidelines outline best practices and key recommendations for different interest groups including policymakers, industry, children, as well as parents, guardians, and educators. These guidelines have been formally adapted and implemented by many relevant stakeholders.
The COP initiative has taken on added importance since the UN formally adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which recognize reducing violence against children as a key area for development. Within this broader global framework, the COP initiative supports two significant areas of work that directly tie to specific SDGs: to resolve potential threats and seize opportunities.
Resolve potential threats
ITU’s COP initiative contributes directly to SDG 16, target 2: “End abuse, exploitation, trafficking, and all forms of violence against and torture or children.”
Through our international network of partners, we have increased awareness of the risks that children face online and promote global collaboration for their mitigation. To achieve this, we run awareness campaigns, assist countries in drafting national strategies, and facilitate coordination on implementation at the national and regional level.
A great example of this is our COP Strategy Framework Workshop in Zambia, one of the first countries on the African continent to join efforts to address COP at the national level.
During the 2014 workshop, participants from different sectors – including COP experts, regional and national stakeholders – demonstrated how working together can support the development of a national strategy. ITU and the COP partners facilitated discussions and provided crucial inputs in terms of experience and best practices. The participants then drafted recommendations on technical, legal, and capacity building issues which were embodied in Zambia’s National Strategy on COP.
Additional initiatives to protect children against cyber risks and violence have been launched since the national strategy was unveiled. The government has trained 150 school teachers about COP and allocated an emergency short code to mobile operators for COP messages. Lifeline/Childline Zambia also tackles issues of cyberbullying & child sexual abuse. According to Lifeline/Childline Zambia’s chief executive officer, Florence Nkhuwa, the organisation recorded about 12,372 contacts from children on cyber bullying in 2014 alone, and the number increased in 2015.
Seize the opportunity
Understanding that the Internet is a powerful tool for youth empowerment, COP engages in education activities to help children gain the necessary knowledge and skills for a safer online lifestyle.
In this way, ITU’s COP initiative contributes to SDG 17, target 6: “Enhance … regional and international cooperation on and access to science, technology and innovation.”
A good example of this is the COP Challenge, organized by ITU and the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of the Kingdom of Bahrain.
The programme was a proactive effort to raise awareness and impact critical thinking skills for students, educators and parents. It addressed children’s online education by presenting a platform where children/students, parents and educators can engage in fun activities to learn more about the risks the children face on the Internet and how these risks can be mitigated so children can reap the benefits of ICT access.
NOTE FROM ITU: ITU calls upon more partners to join in the COP initiative in building a global response to this global challenge. Learn more here.
Carla Licciardello is the Child Online Protection Focal Point of the ITU. She is primarily responsible for supporting ITU Child Online Protection activities, including project development with Member States and other international organizations. She is also working on Cybersecurity and supporting related inter-agency relations. Before joining ITU, Ms. Licciardello has worked for the Italian Mission in Geneva and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction with a focus on the communications and policy aspects of humanitarian assistance to Member State victims of natural disasters.