More and more children around the world now have access to the internet - which creates new challenges in keeping children safe from harm.
As parents we often think about our children’s safety and protection in physical terms. We teach them to look both ways before crossing a street, not to play with fire, to wash their hands before eating and not to talk to strangers. In today’s world, that’s not enough.
Predators no longer need to be physical present to cause lasting harm. A study conducted by World Vision in Albania found that 45 per cent of young internet users in that country reported having experienced bullying, password theft and/or the unintentional viewing of pornographic materials when accessing the internet. The same report revealed that 44 per cent of responding Albanian children reported watching pornographic materials every day and 47 per cent said they had been contacted online by an unknown individual in the last year. The risk of online abuse and violence remains high. The need for knowledge and mechanisms to protect users is crucial.
I have been working in the area of child protection for nine years. It wasn’t until my son, Daniel (who was 6 at the time), came home from school with an assignment that needed to be completed using the internet that my eyes were opened. As we were searching the internet together, a number of pop-up advertisements which were inappropriate for young children appeared. The more time we spent on the internet, the more I realised that this was a child protection risk not just for my child but for children around the world. I spent the next year researching the subject further, networking with local organisations and advocating for World Vision to respond to these new and evolving child protection risks.
As a result, in 2009, we developed the Keeping Children Safe Online project, an innovative and adaptive practice that has demonstrated the ability to protect children from predators and other potentially harmful content that children can encounter online. The project is a practice that supports families, communities and governments to provide the infrastructure necessary for ongoing protection through:
We first piloted the project in World Vision’s programmes in Armenia and Lebanon. After some initial learning refinement the tools, were made available to all countries working in World Vision’s Middle East and Eastern European region.
The project, which is now available in 9 languages including English, Spanish and French and is currently being implemented around the world. It has reached millions. To date, six countries (including Armenia, Georgia, Lebanon, Palestinian territories, Albania and Ghana) have included the training in their national curricula for all school children.
As a parent, I know how important it is to protect my child on all fronts. My son, who is now 14, has his phone and therefore access to internet with him 24/7. Although he knows the principles of how to stay safe online, I realise it is also imperative to keep the channels of communication open, to know what he is doing online and imperative that I know who his friends—real and virtual—are.
I hope teaching children how to properly protect themselves online becomes as fundamental and widespread as teaching children how to interact with strangers who are physically present. The tools included in the Keeping Children Safe Online project are an important and significant first step in this direction.
If you would like more information about this program and how to keep your children safe online, please see the outcomes of this project here.