Making internet safer for South Africa’s children

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Pretoria, South Africa: UNICEF has joined Government, civil society, media companies and Google to launch the South African version of the Google Online Family Safety Centre. The website is available in English, isiZulu and Afrikaans – via computer or mobile – and will assist parents and caregivers in helping their children to navigate the web safely.

The growth of the internet, particularly though mobile phones, has created unprecedented opportunities for the fulfillment of children’s rights, as enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In South Africa there are numerous examples of education games and textbooks, tutoring and counselling, available online and through mobile phones. In 2010, UNICEF collaborated with Mxit to create a portal on child rights and safety ahead of the World Cup which reached more than 90,000 users. Looking globally, children from deprived areas in India have been trained to survey and map out their communities through innovative technology and in Uganda, children are being given the opportunity to report on the quality of education and safety in their schools, using mobile.

“The potential for the empowerment of children and young people through these technologies will only grow, as devices become smarter and faster, and access becomes cheaper. It is imperative that we ensure that the benefits of using the internet and mobiles outweigh the risks they pose to children’s physical safety and privacy,” says Geeta Narayan, Deputy Representative, UNICEF South Africa.

As mobile – and mobile internet – penetration increases, attention is being focused on the vulnerability of children to abuse and exploitation in the online sphere. In many cases, children are unaware of who they can turn to for help, and many parents and teachers are unsure of how to help, as they are unfamiliar with the technologies. UNICEF believes that through education, empowerment of children, young people and their caregivers, and strengthening of relevant policies and legislation, the risk can be minimized.

In 2010 UNICEF launched the Digital Citizenship and Safety project, which aims to provide a better understanding of the digital and ICT landscapes in a number of developing countries, and their impact on the rights and well-being of children.

In South Africa, as part of this initiative, UNICEF partnered with Mxit and leading experts in the field to explore the social networking habits of young people. The results of the study showed that while most time is spent chatting to friends and family, three-quarters of users also regularly interact with strangers. The results of the study have been used as a basis for public discussion and to develop awareness-raising materials.

As part of the commitment to child online safety, UNICEF will be working with Government, NGOs, and academic and corporate partners to further improve knowledge and understanding of the opportunities and risks posed by information and communication technologies to children in South Africa.
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