Global perspective Human stories

UN Forum tackles ‘digital poverty’ facing 2.7 billion people  

Young girls at a school in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon use a tablet during a lesson.
© UNICEF/Frank Dejongh
Young girls at a school in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon use a tablet during a lesson.

UN Forum tackles ‘digital poverty’ facing 2.7 billion people  


The annual UN forum on Internet governance is under way this week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, aiming to deliver bold solutions for an open, free, inclusive and secure digital future for all, in particular for the 2.7 billion people with no Internet access. 

“With the right policies in place, digital technology can give an unprecedented boost to sustainable development, particularly for the poorest countries,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres in a press release. “This calls for more connectivity; and less digital fragmentation. More bridges across digital divides; and fewer barriers. Greater autonomy for ordinary people; less abuse and disinformation.”  

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The 17th Internet Governance Forum, which kicked off on Monday and runs through Friday, is the first held in Africa in 11 years. It puts a spotlight on the least connected region, with 60 per cent of the population lacking Internet access. 

Address the divide 

Globally, more men use the Internet at 62 per cent, compared with 57 per cent of women. And in nearly all countries where data are available, rates of Internet use are higher for those with more education. Addressing these digital divides or “digital poverty” is at the top of the Forum’s agenda. 

While digital technologies transform lives and livelihood for the better, increased use of Internet has also paved the way for the proliferation of misinformation, disinformation and hate speech, the regular occurrence of data breaches, and an increase in cybercrimes.  

This year’s theme, “Resilient Internet for a Shared Sustainable and Common Future”, calls for collective actions and a shared responsibility to connect all people and safeguard human rights; avoid Internet fragmentation; govern data and protect privacy; enable safety, security and accountability; and address advanced digital technologies. 

Internet boost for SDGs 

“The Internet is the platform that will accelerate progress towards the SDGs. Our collective task here in Addis Ababa is to unleash the power and potential of a resilient Internet for our shared sustainable and common future,” said Li Junhua, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs. 

In a video message to the Forum, released on Tuesday, the Secretary-General said: “We often hear that the future will be digital. But the future of digital must be human-centered.” 

Mr. Guterres highlighted that the Global Digital Compact he has proposed is anchored in human rights and aims to deliver on universal connectivity; a human-centred digital space that protects free speech and privacy; and the safe and responsible use of data. 

He expects the Compact to be agreed by Governments at the 2024 Summit of the Future – with input from technology companies, civil society, academia and others.