Safeguarding childhoods from online harm during COVID-19 and beyond

News: Recently on 8th February, safer internet day was celebrated. It reminds to analyse internet’s impact on children while providing uninterrupted learning during the pandemic but also exposing them to several online risks

How pandemic has increased online risks for children?

One, during the lockdown, children did not have option of outdoor games, and it made them to explore online games. But the competition during game sometimes results in violent behavior and change in behavior pattern while affecting their psycho-social wellness.

Two, as per Internet Watch Foundation, 2021 was the worst year on record for child sexual abuse online.

Three, CRY ‘Online Safety and Internet Addiction’ study revealed that half of the respondents displayed some level of addiction to the Internet.

Four, longer hours on the internet makes children vulnerable to risks like online sexual abuse, grooming / sexual solicitation, sexting, exposure to pornography, production and circulation of child sexual abuse material, cyber-bullying, online harassment and cyber-victimisation.

For instance, NCRB (2020) data says there is a sharp increase of about 400 % in cyber-crimes committed against children in comparison to the last year.

Also, according to Interpol pandemic has changed the trends of child sexual exploitation around the world. Offenders will adapt and change their online environments to avoid detection and to target platforms that are popular with children.

Five, the pandemic has also limited access to community support and services which are important in addressing child sexual exploitation, which makes children more susceptible.

What is the way forward?

First, there is a need to study online trends and risks faced by children. For example, Child Rights and You (CRY) are conducting regular sessions to build awareness about cyber-safety for children.

Second, all the stakeholders including the government, the civil society and the parents should also fulfil their responsibility in safe-guarding children’s safety.

Three, there should be adequate budgetary allocations to implement a robust mechanism towards ensuring children’s online safety. For example, child protection budget has marked an increase of 44 per cent in budget 2022-23, but there should be clarity in terms of what portion of that will go to address online safety of children.

Source: This post is based on the article “Safeguarding childhoods from online harm during COVID-19 and beyond” published in Down to Earth on 9th Feb 2022.

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