Safer Internet Day: UNICEF calls for concerted action to prevent bullying and harassment for the over 70 per cent of young people online worldwide
UNICEF cautioned today of the dangers posed by online violence, cyberbullying and digital harassment for the 70.6 per cent of young people aged 15 to 24 years old who are online globally, and called for concerted action to tackle and prevent violence against children and young people online.
The call, made on Safer Internet Day, comes following a recent UNICEF poll of young people, which received more than 1 million responses over five weeks from more than 160 countries, and suggestions from a series of student-led #ENDviolence Youth Talks held around the world. In it, young people provided thoughtful responses about what they and their parents, teachers and policymakers could do to keep them safe — and kindness stood out as one of the most powerful means to prevent bullying and cyberbullying.
The Internet has become a fixture of young people’s lives regardless of income level. According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), while 94 per cent of young people aged 15-24 in developed countries are online, more than 65 per cent of young people in developing countries are online. This is well ahead of the pace of Internet usage among the general population. Worldwide, half of the total population, regardless of age, is online. According to UNICEF’s 2018 Report ‘Keeping Children Safe and Empowered Online’, 52.8 per cent of young people in Sri Lanka access the internet – with the average age of first access being 13 years.
This online proliferation comes with increased risk. According to data from UNESCO on the prevalence of cyberbullying in high income countries, the proportion of children and adolescents who are affected by cyberbullying ranges from 5 per cent to 21 per cent, with girls appearing to be more likely to experience cyberbullying than boys.
“Sri Lanka must be commended for developing a National Plan of Action, of which the online safety of children has been made a priority. We all need to now accelerate its implementation to ensure that every child in Sri Lanka is protected from violence, abuse and exploitation.
This will fulfill Sri Lanka’s commitment to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children” said UNICEF Sri Lanka Representative, Tim Sutton.
Cyberbullying can cause profound harm as it can quickly reach a wide audience, and can remain accessible online indefinitely, virtually ‘following’ its victims online for life. Bullying and cyberbullying feed into each other, forming a continuum of damaging behaviour. Victims of cyberbullying are more likely to use alcohol and drugs and skip school than other students. They also are more likely to receive poor grades and experience low self-esteem and health problems. In extreme situations, cyberbullying has led to suicide. On Safer Internet Day, UNICEF is reminding everyone that kindness – both online and off – is a responsibility that begins with each of us. According to the Ending Violence in Childhood Global Report 2017, 38 per cent of children in Sri Lanka aged 13 to 15 have experienced bullying, while 47 per cent of these children have also reported having physical fights.
In honor of the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF is also calling for renewed urgency and cooperation to put children’s rights at the forefront of digital efforts. As part of this, UNICEF is implementing programs to leverage the internet’s promise of connectivity and education on behalf of the world’s children. For example, UNICEF’s Internet of Good Things aims to bridge the digital divide and build knowledge in societies by hosting mobile-packaged content designed to make life-saving and life-improving information available for free, even on low-end devices.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child came into being in 1989. Since then, 194 state parties including Sri Lanka have ratified it, making it the most widely accepted human rights treaty in history. Sri Lanka ratified the CRC in 1991, which then led to the establishment of a National Children’s Charter based on the CRC, which was approved by the cabinet, enabling its application into state policy.