Young people are the driving force of connectivity globally, with 79% of 15 to 24-year-olds online in 2023, compared with 65% for the rest of the worlds population. Children are also spending more time online than ever before. And theyre getting there sooner. Around the world, a child goes online for the first time every half second!

This has created unprecedented opportunities for children and young people to communicate, learn, socialize, and play, exposing them to new ideas and more diverse sources of information.

Risks of the Internet for young people

But with these opportunities come serious risks. and other forms of peer-to-peer violence can affect young people each time they log in to social media or instant messaging platforms. Over a third of young people in 30 countries report being cyberbullied, with 1 in 5 skipping school because of it.

When browsing the Internet, children and young people may be exposed to hate speech and violent content - including messages that incite self-harm and even suicide. Young internet users are also vulnerable to recruitment by extremist and terrorist groups.

Digital platforms have also been used as vectors for disinformation and conspiracy theories that have a harmful effect on children and young people.

Most alarming is the threat of online . It has never been easier for child sex offenders to contact their potential victims, share imagery and encourage others to commit offences. Some 80% of children in 25 countries report feeling in danger of sexual abuse or exploitation online.

Children can also be put at risk when tech companies breach their privacy to collect data for marketing purposes. Child-targeted marketing through apps - and the excessive screen time it often results in - can compromise a childs healthy development.

What the UN is doing to protect young people online

The borderless nature of the Internet means keeping young people safe online is a global challenge. The UN is actively working to protect children and youth online through various programmes and initiatives.

Cybersecurity

The Child Online Protection () Initiative is a multi-stakeholder network launched by the International Telecommunication Union () to promote awareness of child safety in the online world and to develop practical tools to assist governments, industry and educators.  The are a comprehensive set of recommendations for all relevant stakeholders on how to contribute to the development of a safe and empowering online environment for children and young people. 

Cyberbullying

Childrens Fund () has teamed up with social media platforms to answer some of the most common questions about and give advice on ways to deal with it. aims to end cyberbullying one message at a time.

Every first Thursday of November, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization () marks the International Day against Violence and Bullying at School Including , recognizing that school-related violence in all its forms is an infringement of children and adolescents rights to education and health and well-being. The day is an opportunity for stakeholders around the world step up efforts to ensure students safety at school and in online spaces.

Sexual exploitation and abuse

UNICEF prevents and responds to the online sexual exploitation of children at the country and global level. It supports coordinated national responses to online child sexual exploitation in over 20 countries - using the - strengthening the capacity of on-the-ground responders to provide services to victims.

The World Health Organization (), in its on preventing online violence against children, focuses on child sexual abuse, including grooming and sexual image abuse and cyber aggression and harassment. The report highlights the importance of implementing educational programmes directed at children and parents.

Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is a global crime that trades in people and exploits them for profit. Human traffickers have become adept at using internet platforms to recruit victims and attract clients. Children and teenagers are susceptible to deceptive ploys in the search for acceptance, attention, or friendship and are often courted by traffickers on social media platforms. Office on Drugs and Crime ) supports Member States in their efforts to prevent and combat human trafficking, including through activities aimed at children and young people.

Internet for Trust

UNESCO is spearheading the global effort to develop regulatory solutions to improve the reliability of information on digital platforms in the face of rising disinformation. In February 2023, the UN agency hosted the to discuss a set of which aim to create a safe and secure internet environment for users while protecting freedom of expression and access to information. The guidelines urge digital platforms to recognize their specific responsibilities towards children who have a special status given their unique stage of development and limited political voice.

UNESCO is also the lead UN agency promoting media and information literacy (), which  empowers people to think critically about information and use of digital tools. UNESCO strives to equip youth with media and information literacy skills empowering them to be leaders and peer educators in the creation and dissemination of MIL knowledge and resources. Since 2016, it has been holding the to help young people learn about the latest developments in MIL. This is part of the annual Global Media and Information Literacy Week, a major occasion for stakeholders to review and celebrate the progress achieved towards media and information literacy for all.

 

Childrens rights in the digital age

Childrens rights are enshrined in the . The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child () that monitors implementation of the Convention has laid out the ways that young people and children should be treated in the digital world, and how their rights should be protected.

The Committee consulted with governments, civil society and over 700 children and young people in 27 countries, asking them how digital technology impacts their rights, and what actions they want to see taken to protect them. The findings were laid out in a '.'

The Committee recommended that States take strong measures, including legislation, to protect children from harmful and misleading content. Children should also be protected from all forms of violence that happens in the digital environment, including child trafficking, gender-based violence, cyber-aggression, cyber-attacks and information warfare.

Childrens perspectives and experiences need to be considered when drafting policies that govern the use of young peoples digital use, as well as when designing the technology itself. the Global Kids Online and Disrupting Harm projects to gather evidence on childrens digital rights, opportunities, and risks to better understand how use of digital technology contributes to their lives and when it amplifies their risk of harm.

Safer Internet Day

UN agencies and partners, including innovators in the private sector, are forging a digital path towards boosting safety online, especially for children and young people. With support from ITU, UNICEF and UNODC, is celebrated in February every year. From to social networking to digital identity, each year Safer Internet Day aims to raise awareness of emerging online issues and current concerns.

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