The United Nations today joined the global call for child online safety, with human rights experts flagging the need to tackle online child sexual abuse and the head of the UN agency for information and communication technology urging greater worldwide collaboration to ensure what has become a priority for many countries.
“Child online safety is now much higher on the political agenda of many countries, and has become a top priority for a wide variety of stakeholders, including businesses and financial institutions,” said Houlin Zhao, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in a message on Safe Internet Day.
“I warmly encourage all of you to join us today in promoting the increasingly vital need to keep everyone, and especially our young people, safe online,” Mr. Zhao said.
According to ITU, in 2013, 30 per cent of the world’s youth were “digital natives” – defined as 15-24 years old with five or more years of experience online. And by 2018, this is expected to double in the developing world, growing from 22.8 per cent to 53 per cent of young Internet users.
“Creating a better Internet together” is this year’s theme,” the ITU Secretary-General said. “The word ‘together’ is the key. It’s a word we hear very often. But in reality, in the online world global collaboration is not so easily implemented.”
He went on to say: “Safer Internet Day is a great example of how the international community can start to collaborate in a harmonized way to create a better environment for all.”
Meanwhile, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Violence against Children, Marta Santos Pais; the Special Rapporteur on sale and sexual exploitation of children, Maud de Boer-Buquicchio; and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, called on States and the IT industry to tackle head on online child sexual abuse and exploitation, while protecting the right to freedom of expression of both children and adults.
In a joint statement, the experts said that “openness and accessibility are fundamental aspects of the Internet – but therein also lie some of the greatest risks.”
“New technologies are easing the production and proliferation of child abuse material, with new exploitative activities appearing such as the live streaming of child sexual abuse on demand,” according to their statement. “The quantification and identification of cases are made difficult by the possibility of concealing illegal activities on the Internet. The harm caused to child victims is amplified when images of abuse and exploitation go viral.”
The statement went on to note that: considerable progress has been made in recent years in addressing risks and harms while maximizing opportunities offered by new technologies to prevent online abuse and empower children, but “it is high time to scale up these efforts by connecting through a truly global alliance to develop an empowering, safe and inclusive digital agenda for children.”
“We need an empowering, inclusive and safe Internet for all children, wherever they are,” it said. “Let us all connect safely to make it happen!”
Safer Internet Day is marked on 10 February globally to help promote the safe, responsible and positive use of digital technology for children and young people. The day offers the opportunity to highlight positive uses of technology and explore the role that all stakeholders can play in helping to create a better internet and safer online community.