The U.N. Children’s Fund says the explosion of digital technology and growing internet access holds both benefits and risks for children. UNICEF’s annual State of the World’s Children report explores ways to protect children from the potential harm of the expanding digital world.
The U.N. children’s fund reports one in three internet users around the world is a child. Despite this huge and growing online presence, UNICEF says little is known about the impact of digital technology on children’s wellbeing and little is being done to protect them from the perils of the digital world.
UNICEF Director of Data Research and Policy Laurence Chandy tells VOA the internet can be a game changer for children.
“We sincerely believe that especially for kids in places where opportunities are few or for children who are disabled living in remote places ... it is completely intuitive that the internet has enormous potential and is already helping children access opportunity that just was not conceivable not long ago," said Chandy.
At the same time, he says the internet poses many risks. These include the misuse of children’s private information, access to harmful content and cyberbullying. Chandy says criminal digital networks make children vulnerable to some of the worst forms of exploitation and abuse, including trafficking and online child sexual abuse.
He says safeguarding children’s privacy on the internet is an issue of major concern.
“We really emphasize the importance of putting in place safeguards to prevent children’s personal data from falling in wrong peoples’ hands and protecting their identities," said Chandy. "This is an issue which is only going to grow in importance.”
While the risks are great, Chandy criticizes businesses and regulators for doing little to reduce the dangers.
The report finds millions of children still are missing out on the benefits offered by the internet. It notes around one-third of the world’s youth, most in developing countries, are not online. It calls for these inequities to be addressed. It says children everywhere must be given the opportunity to participate in an increasingly digital economy.