Safeguarding young people online

One third of current Internet users are children and young people – with UNICEF estimating that 71% of the world’s young people are online. Increasing digitalisation has brought new opportunities – new ways to learn, play, work, socialise, explore the wider world, express opinions and exercise creativity. But the downside is that the Internet has also opened up space for bullying, harassment and abuse that can destroy young lives.

RNW Media is proud to have taken part in one of the working groups that drew up the new Guidelines on Child Online Protection from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The guidelines are a comprehensive set of recommendations on how to contribute to a safe and empowering online environment for children and young people. The working groups were responsible for revising, writing and editing the guidelines which are a new version of those first published in 2009.

Ensuring safe spaces
Our core business is creating digital communities for social change and it’s essential that these communities are a safe, inclusive space for young people from diverse backgrounds. RNW Media implements a range of strategies to create these safe spaces and ensure a constructive atmosphere, but our teams and users still face harassment, cyberbullying and online gender-based violence from time to time – the issues the ITU guidelines aim to address.

‘Collective attack’
In Yemen for instance, young women face widespread online harassment. There is, says Regional Manager Ruba Mimi, “…almost a collective attack on women online, stealing photos, threatening them, real tragic stories.” RNW Media’s platform in Yemen, Manasati30, is planning a campaign to tackle the problem and is already working with a digital expert in Yemen to create content advising their young target audience on how to protect themselves in the digital space. In a recent article, two young Yemeni women described their experiences:

“I did not imagine when I posted my picture on my personal page that I might receive this amount of insults and verbal harassment through comments and messages, which made me very scared and uncertain. I cried before I decided to delete those comments and messages and ban their owners, and eventually I had to delete the image and my account on the site permanently.”

“I receive dozens of messages with sexual content, which varies between texts, pictures and videos. My personal photo was photoshopped onto one of the sexual pictures and I was threatened and blackmailed. I felt very afraid and was cut off for a long time from social networking sites. Upon my return I was restricted to using social networking sites for information only.”

The article goes on to discuss the various forms of online sexual harassment and the mental and emotional damage it can do. Readers are advised to seek help and advice and referred to another article on the site about how to deal with cyber bullying which offers a long list of tips on how to ensure personal online safety – and how to deal with harassment if it occurs.

A broad range of international civil society organisations and institutions contributed to the ITU guidelines which also included a list of recommendations for policy makers, urging them to start developing national child online protection strategies. As RNW Media we strongly support these recommendations:

  • Ensure governments around the world develop and/or review their national child online protection strategies that address all harms against children and young people in the digital environment.
  • At the same time, ensure that these protection strategies do not unduly restrict children’s rights.
  • Engage all the relevant national stakeholders with an interest in online child protection, with special attention to children and young people themselves.
  • Consider the importance of awareness and education among children and young people about child online protection through digital literacy programmes.

You can find the full guidelines here