A student at St. Francis of Assisi School and other girls, check their smart phones after classes in the Central Visayas city of Cebu, Philippines. Photo: UNICEF/Joshua Estey
By PATRICK MAYOYO
Eight out of ten 18-year-olds believe that young people are in danger of being sexually abused or taken advantage of online, and more than five out of 10 think friends participate in risky behaviours while using the Internet, a new report released today by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) shows.
The report, Perils and Possibilities: Growing up online is based on an international opinion poll of more than 10,000 18-year-olds from 25 countries, and discusses young people’s perspectives on the risks they face growing up in an increasingly connected world.
“The Internet and mobile phones have revolutionized young people’s access to information, but the poll findings show just how real the risk of online abuse is for girls and boys,” said Cornelius Williams, UNICEF’s Associate Director of Child Protection.
“Globally, one in three Internet users is a child. Today’s findings provide important insights from young people themselves. UNICEF aims to amplify adolescents’ voices to help address online violence, exploitation and abuse, and make sure that children can take full advantage of the benefits the internet and mobile phones offer,” he added.
The report found that adolescents appear confident with their own ability to stay safe while using the internet, with nearly 90 per cent of interviewees believing they can avoid online dangers. Approximately six out of 10 said meeting new people online is either somewhat or very important to them, but only 36 per cent strongly believe they can tell when people are lying about who they are online.
More than two thirds of girls – 67 per cent – strongly agree they would be worried if they received sexual comments or requests over the internet, compared with 47 per cent of boys. When online threats do occur, more adolescents turn to friends than parents or teachers, but less than half strongly agree they know how to help a friend facing an online risk.
The report also found that two thirds of 18-year-olds in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean believe children and adolescents are in danger of being sexually abused or taken advantage of online, compared with 33 per cent polled in the Middle East and North Africa.
In addition, two thirds of interviewees in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean either believe strongly, or somewhat strongly, that friends put themselves at risk online, compared with 33 per cent in the United States and the United Kingdom.
The survey also shows that 18-year-olds in the United States and the United Kingdom are most confident they can avoid online dangers, with 94 per cent strongly or somewhat agreeing they can protect themselves on social media. In the Middle East and North Africa, only 41 per cent strongly agree and an additional 37 per cent agree somewhat on that issue.
In Central European countries, 63 per cent of interviewees strongly agree they would tell a friend if they felt threatened online, compared with 46 per cent who would tell their parent. Only 9 per cent would tell a teacher, the survey found.
To engage children and adolescents in ending violence online, UNICEF said it is launching the #ReplyforAll campaign, which is part of its global End Violence Against Children initiative. The #ReplyforAll campaign puts adolescents as messengers and advocates to keep them safe online. Children and adolescents will be asked to give their advice on the best ways to respond to online violence or risks and to raise awareness among friends through social media.
This work has been supported by the WePROTECT Global Alliance, an initiative created in 2014 by the Government of the United Kingdom that is dedicated to ending the sexual exploitation of children online through national and global action.
UNICEF, together with the WePROTECT Global Alliance, is calling on national governments to establish coordinated responses between criminal justice systems including law enforcement, and child welfare, education, health and the information and communication technology (ICT) sectors, as well as civil society, to better protect children from online sexual abuse and exploitation.
“When young people, governments, families, the ICT sector and communities work together, we are more likely to find the best ways to respond to online sexual abuse and exploitation, and send a strong message that confronting and ending violence against children online – indeed anywhere – is all of our business,” said Mr. Williams.