x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Study promotes 'safety net' for children

Report by Unicef documents children's online behaviour, risks and vulnerability.

DUBAI // Young people need to help create an online "safety net", according to a Unicef study.

The report suggests children be involved in the design and implementation of strategies to protect them while using the internet.

The study by Unicef's Innocenti Research Centre, Child Safety Online - Global Challenges and Strategies, was launched last week and documents children's online behaviour, risks and vulnerability.

It also recommends measures that must be followed by countries to combat abuse and exploitation.

"We have learnt that a singular approach to combating these crimes is not effective," said Gordon Alexander, the director of the centre. "What is required is a collective effort by policymakers, law enforcement agencies, social workers, teachers, parents and the private sector to systematically protect children."

In most countries, children under 18 make up a high percentage of the total number of people online.

The report emphasises the role of young people in creating a "safety net" as internet usage becomes more private and mobile.

They need to know the risks and how to avoid them, and must be armed with the skills to make informed choices when in cyberspace.

"Child protection mechanisms must be transparent, accessible and enforceable. If children are to use them, they must feel safe and be perceived as effective. The active engagement of children in online protection strategies provides an essential source of experience and expertise," the report states.

It is estimated that the number of abusive images of children online runs into the millions and cyber bulling is an increasing threat, too.

The report also recommends the introduction of clearly defined, effective national legislation and the development of a code of conduct for self-regulation.

Some countries - including Australia, Canada, the UK and the US - work together as part of a virtual Global Taskforce and have specialist units focusing on the prosecution of online sexual exploitation and child abuse.

The full report by Unicef can be found on www.unicef-irc.org.

aahmed@thenational.ae