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Keeping Children Safe Online: New UNICEF report reveals increased risks and best strategies to protect children online

2011-12-13

TORONTO, December 13, 2011 – New information on the dangers children face online and the most effective ways parents, caregivers and policy makers can make cyberspace safer are outlined in a report released by UNICEF today.

"Most Canadian children are online,” says Marvin Bernstein, UNICEF Canada's Chief Advisor, Advocacy. “This report provides important strategies Canadians must seriously consider to protect children from known and emerging risks online.”

The report Child Safety Online: global challenges and strategies explains that children's online activities are becoming more private and more frequent as mobile phones overtake personal computers as the most popular way to surf the web.

Some activities like "sexting" (text messaging or sharing sexual images online) are riskier than others. "Sexting" is usually intended to be a private exchange between two people, but images are often shared with more people and can have devastating impacts including depression, bullying or self-harm.

Young people themselves identify cyberbullying as the most serious online threat. The report explains, cyberbullying can be particularly traumatic because of its anonymity, its capacity to intrude at any time into places that might otherwise be safe for young people and because it is often public and seen by peers.

The report also reveals there are more than 16,000 web pages worldwide depicting millions of child abuse images of tens of thousands of children. Victims are young, with 73 per cent under 10 years old and the content becoming increasingly more graphic and violent.

“Because of our expanding digital world, there are more opportunities for valuable information and education for children than ever before,” says Bernstein. “But the Internet has also significantly increased the potential dangers children face. We must respond to these dangers in a balanced and measured way to ensure children are safe.”

Protecting Children Online

The first line of defence in protecting children online is ensuring they receive specific, age-appropriate education. Children must understand the risks they face and make informed and responsible choices when they use digital media.

Canada is a global leader in legally protecting children from sexual exploitation both on and offline, but the report has found legislation is only part of the answer. Parents, teachers, policy makers and the private sector all have a role to play. Private companies must be vigilant in removing inappropriate materials from servers and providing child-friendly programs and privacy controls. Social service providers must also recognize the crossover between online and offline abuse and extend recovery services to all children who need them.

Finally, lawmakers must ensure legislation designed to protect children isn't actually harming them. This can be achieved through the use of early child impact assessments. For example, some laws allow for criminal charges for distributing child pornography when teens share sexual images of themselves.

The establishment of a National Children's Commissioner is also an important step in ensuring the development of a nation-wide response strategy to combat online and offline sexual exploitation, abuse and bullying.

“It is impossible to remove all risks that exist online for children,” says Bernstein. “But there are many effective strategies to mitigate these risks, while respecting the rights of children and ensuring they benefit from the important opportunities evolving technology can provide.”
Advice and sources of information for young people, parents, businesses and others can be found at www.unicef.ca/onlinesafety.

About UNICEF
UNICEF is the world's leading child-focused humanitarian and development agency. Through innovative programs and advocacy work, we save children's lives and secure their rights in virtually every country. Our global reach, unparalleled influence on policymakers, and diverse partnerships make us an instrumental force in shaping a world in which no child dies of a preventable cause. UNICEF is entirely supported by voluntary donations and helps all children, regardless of race, religion or politics. For more information about UNICEF, please visit www.unicef.ca.

For further information:

Stefanie Carmichael, Communications Specialist, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8866; Cell: (647) 500-4230, scarmichael@unicef.ca.
Tiffany Baggetta, Director, Communications and Brand, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8892; Cell: (647) 308-4806, tbaggetta@unicef.ca.