Children in Online Environment – Threats and Measures to protect

Internet is today being accessed through mobile phones, laptops, tablets, desktops ect. The presence of enhanced access to Internet available to the children has two dimensions –

  • firstly, lack of digital literacy and online safety measures ;
  • secondly, more learning opportunities via internet.

This post focuses on the first dimension. Offline forms of crime and violence against children are finding new forms of expression in the online world. Certain threats and risks are unique to cyberspace, such as those that involve the malicious and criminal use of ICT to harass and exploit children for sexual, discriminatory or commercial purposes.

Digital technology and interactivity also pose significant risks to children’s safety, privacy and well-being, magnifying threats and harms that many children already face offline and making already-vulnerable children even more vulnerable. The result is increased opportunities for wider misuse and exploitation of children’s privacy and changed the way children regard their own private information.The children are being exposed to following hazards –

  • Cyber bullying
  • Online child sexual abuse
  • Online sexual exploitation
  • Cyber extremism
  • Online commercial fraud etc

Terminology Guidelines for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse

Interagency Working Group in Luxembourg on 28 January 2016 adopted  Terminology Guidelines for the Protection
of Children from Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse. The participating organisations agreed that the term “child” should refer to any person under the age of 18 years, in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Digital Ombudsman

The idea of an internet ombudsman is already quite developed in France and Australia. In England, the Children’s Commissioner’s report titled Growing Up Digital Taskforce suggested establishment of Children’s Digital Ombudsman to mediate between under 18 years and social media companies.

Digital Literacy

Teaching children how to recognize and protect themselves from online dangers; and making digital citizenship a core component of digital literacy instruction is must. United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child,2014 urged Member States to include digital literacy in their school curricula.Children should be able to:

  •  Access and operate in digital environments safely and effectively;
  •  Critically evaluate information;
  •  Communicate safely, responsibly and effectively through digital technology; and
  •  Create digital content.

Role of Government

DEITY, part of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, has launched a five-year project on ‘Information Security, Education and Awareness’.

  • It aims at generation of quality human resource in the area of information security at various levels viz. from certificate level to doctoral level, training of faculty/ Industry Professionals, creating awareness on information security in the country.
  • A national level awareness campaign is launched to cover various sections of the society by undertaking several activities such as targeting the Internet users through

(a) creating and disseminating awareness material,

(b) introduction of information security curriculum at school level by interacting with various school boards, CBSE, NCERT, etc.,

(c) organising awareness workshops, cyber security awareness weeks in collaboration with local state government law enforcement agencies,

(d) design and develop awareness material for various segments, multi-lingual portal, etc.

Campaign in India

The #staysafeonline campaign is designed in line with findings and recommendations from the UNICEF Child Online Protection in India Report. The campaign has worked to disseminate three core messages among children-

  • Be there for a friend in need,
  • treat others with respect and
  • advise others to be real friends.

The policy makers must understand the online risks faced by children, to identify gaps in legislation, to ensure removal of harmful online materials, to support investigation and law enforcement and to identify services for child victims of online exploitation and abuse. A lot more needs to be done to create a supportive digital environment for children and young people.

A toolkit for protection of minors in cyberspace can be viewed here.

Image from here

L&P Editorial Team

The Law & Practice Blog's editorial team.

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