First, I am happy to share that several months ago, I’ve started a new role as an expert on Child Online Protection (COP) project for the United Nations agency responsible for information and communication technologies – the ITU (International Telecommunication Union). I am serving as a national coordinator who works on developing a national strategy for child online safety. Also, I work on projects that aim to strengthen the Child Online Protection (COP) frameworks in selected Asia-Pacific countries with an emphasis on providing guidance, developing guidelines, building human and institutional capacity, enhancing stakeholders’ engagement and increasing awareness.
Second, on 28th June 2022, I participated in a child online safety open panel with experts from the Asia-Pacific region from industry (Facebook, Smart Axiata, etc.) and academia, organized by the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications Cambodia in cooperation with UNICEF.
On the behalf of the ITU, I was on the open panel discussion on “The role of private sectors in raising public awareness and behavioural change on Child Online Risk and Protection”, where I shared the best practices and recommendations that IT companies can take to raise awareness and promote protective behaviour changes. I provided case studies on best practices from regional or international companies, starting from my ITU house. The ITU and Norwegian Telenor joined forces to develop Digiworld, as an example of how the child online protection guidelines can be delivered in practice. Digiworld is an interactive learning and digital library, a resource centre designed to help children aged between 5 and 16 to develop the knowledge and skills they need to navigate the online world in a safer and more enjoyable way. It consists of interactive online games, a digital library full of challenges and downloadable worksheets that allow children to explore at their own pace and progress through different levels depending on their age, experience and ability. There are supporting guides to help parents, carers and teachers to play and learn alongside their children and to actively support them in developing their digital understanding and resilience.
The second, from the house, an example is the “Online Safety with Sango”, an online training course designed to empower children to protect themselves in the digital sphere. Not only is the course for children but, just as importantly, it was developed together with children. Children were also part of the development of its key character, Sango – short for Sangophone, ITU’s child online protection mascot. Of course, there are many other online safety best practices and examples from the industry, to name a few: Get Digital and We think Digital by Facebook, Get Internet Awesome by Google, LEGO life and Doom the Gloom programs, Intel’s Online Safety for Kids, etc.
All these COP efforts and practices are okay and it is good they exist as a remedy, but they are not enough. They tackle the tip of the iceberg of the problem. We need a structural, systematic and legal solution in the child online protection ecosystem. And I want to point out the crucial dynamics here that are necessary for child online safety. Industry and companies need to:
- include corporate social responsibility culture and framework on specific aspects that is addressing child online protection. It is time for the companies to invest as well on the protection side of what the technology brings to the community in regards to risks and negative social dynamics, e.g. such as creating programs for children.
- creating an open dialogue with the government and ensuring there is a clear feedback mechanism. Industry can work in collaboration with government and educators to strengthen parents’ abilities to support their children and young people to behave as responsible digital citizens.
- companies should implement strong ethical standards, working and dealing with children, women and vulnerable groups who access the services and digital platforms. Standards should be aligned with laws and legal frameworks.
Equally important, with regard to protecting children’s rights online and data privacy, industries need to work together to strike a careful balance between children’s right to protection and their right to access to information and freedom of expression. We have good practices from Europe, the UK, and California where the Children’s code of rights is implemented.
In States which lack adequate legal frameworks for the protection of children and young people’s rights to privacy and freedom of expression, companies should ensure policies and practices are in line with international standards. See United Nations General Assembly Resolution 68/167 on the right to privacy in the digital age.
It is good and useful that we are discussing all these issues and even more importantly, that we are taking action and implementing the strategies and best practices in regard to child online safety. Stay tuned.