UNICEF calls for action to prevent cyberbullying of youth, children

UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore

New Delhi, UNICEF on Tuesday called for global concerted action to prevent online violence, cyberbullying and digital harassment for over 70 per cent of children and young people online.

The call, made on Safer Internet Day, comes following a recent United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) poll of young people, which received more than a 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.

“We’ve heard from children and young people from around the globe and what they are saying is clear: The Internet has become a kindness desert,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.

That’s why, she said, UNICEF is inviting everyone, young and old, to be kind online, and calling for greater action to make the Internet a safer place for everyone.

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.

“This online proliferation comes with increased risk,” Fore said. 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.

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. Victims of cyberbullying are more likely to use alcohol and drugs and skip school than other students. In extreme situations, cyberbullying has led to suicide.

In honour of the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF also called for renewed urgency and cooperation to put children’s rights at the forefront of digital efforts.

As part of this, it is implementing programmes to leverage the internet’s promise of connectivity and education on behalf of the world’s children.

“Thirty years after the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the creation of the World Wide Web, it is time for governments, families, academia and the private sector to put children and young people at the centre of digital policies,” said Fore.