A week ago, I got a chance to go over two reports on protection of children against online harmful content: one was entitled “protecting children from cyber crime” and another one “guidelines for industry on child online protection”.
After reading them, I felt the passion to share a few insights worth considering in the way of protecting children from harmful online content.
Prior to expressing those insights, it is important to acknowledge that the development of the internet into many aspects of everyday life has led to a tremendous paradigm shift in terms of communication.
This development of the modern information society offers great opportunities. In particular, the new ICTs have profoundly changed the ways in which children interact with and participate in the world around them.
The proliferation of internet access points, mobile technology and the growing array of internet-enabled devices, combined with the immense resources to be found in cyberspace, provide unprecedented opportunities to learn, share and communicate.
The benefits of ICT usage include broader access to information about social services, educational resources and health information. Although the advent of internet brought countless advantages, as seen above, among others, it has opened up a Pandora ’s Box (serious threats).
As a consequence, it is important to make an appeal to the law enforcement, parents, guardians, caregivers, educators, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and cybercafé owners to synergise their efforts to take actions to protect children’s safety when using ICTs and promote their positive use of ICTs.
According to a report of the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ), published in May 2011, focusing on the growing problem of cybercrime against children, new technologies are being misused to crimes, such as child exploitation; production, distribution, and possession of child pornography; exposure to harmful content; grooming, harassment, and sexual abuse; and child-cyber bullying.
As a result, a number of mechanisms must be taken to secure children against illicit online content or online paedophiles.
First, in particular, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should integrate child rights considerations into all appropriate corporate policies and management process.
Children civil engagement is necessary through online communications and, as such, the ISPs should deploy technical measures to prevent the misuse of their services or networks for sharing known child sexual abuse materials.
There is a need, for example, to install hash technologies to automatically locate images of child sexual abuse that are already know to law enforcement.
Second, developing standard processes to handle child sexual abuse materials. Law enforcement must tackle more seriously the dissemination and distribution of child sexual abuse materials by pursuing and prosecuting abusers, raising awareness, and supporting children to recover from abuse or exploitation.
Third, creating a safer and age-appropriate online environment. In this view, children can be thought as receivers, participants and actors in their online environment.
However, children face three categories of risks: first, inappropriate content, they may stumble upon questionable content while searching for something else by clicking a presumably innocuous link in an instant message, on a blog or when sharing files.
Second, inappropriate conduct, children and adults may use the internet to harass or even exploit other people.
Third, inappropriate contact, adults may seek to persuade the child to perform sexual or other abusive acts online, using a webcam or other recording device, or they will try to arrange an in-person meeting and physical contact.
This is often referred to as ‘grooming’. Online safety has become a big challenge today, hence being an opportunity for the ISPs and law enforcement to work together to establish safety principles and practices.
Fourth, educating children, parents and teachers about children’s safety and their responsible use of ICTs must be at the forefront. Here technical measures can be important part of ensuring that children are protected from the potential risks they face online, but these are only one element of the equation.
Although ISPs have an important role in ensuring that children use internet in the most responsible and safest possible way, this responsibility is shared with parents, caregivers, educators and children.
Fifth, promoting digital technology as a model for increasing civil engagement. Accordingly, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, pursuant to Article 13, states that “the child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this rights shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice.”
ISPs, law enforcement and parents in fulfilling their responsibility of protecting children against online abusive acts, they should not compromise children’s civil and political rights by suppressing their right to participation and expression or preventing them from accessing information that is important to their well-being. Striking a right balance is required here!
Most importantly, ISPs can support the development of technology and content that encourage and enable children and young people to learn, innovate and create solutions.
The writer is a lecturer and international law expert.