Keeping children safe online

Facing a global health crisis like COVID-19 has brought many academic and social challenges as well as frustrations for both parents and children. As online schoolworklessons and socialising with friends and family became the new norm. Children became at greater risk of harm online as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

Spending more time on virtual platforms can leave children vulnerable to online sexual exploitation and grooming, as predators look to exploit the current pandemic. This is according the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), a UN agency responsible for providing humanitarian and developmental aid to children worldwide, and its partners.

“Under the shadow of COVID-19, the lives of millions of children have temporarily shrunk to just their homes and their screens. We must help them navigate this new reality,” says UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore.

In South Africa, this may put children’s privacy in danger as they spend more time online. They are more likely to encounter online risks, including being exposed to, child sexual abuse and predators. While innocently sharing their images and stories of daily life, through social media to stay connected. Children’s rights to privacy and protection should not be compromised, the agency says.

UNICEF together with its partners, Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children, International Telecommunication Union (ITU), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), WePROTECT Global Alliance, World Health Organization (WHO), and World Childhood Foundation USA, is releasing a new technical note aimed at urging governments, ICT industries, educators and parents to be alert, take urgent measures to mitigate potential risks, and ensure children’s online experiences are safe and positive during COVID-19. See the pdf attached below for more detailed information.

“This lockdown is a time for parents to be proactive in speaking to their children about online safety, how to change their social media settings to “private, friends or contacts only”, or prevent spam or unwanted sexual content,” says chief of child protection at UNICEF South Africa Mayke Huijbregts.

“By paying attention to the different things that children do online – increased communication, game-playing, learning – we are better placed to manage the time that children spend online. Promoting positive online and recreational use, and building children’s skills to stay safe online, will serve them well after the lockdown is lifted,” she says.

Listen to the Webinar on Online Safety for children to commemorate Child Protection Week 2020 (31 May- 6 June), UNICEF co-hosted and participated a Webinar on Online Safety for children with key players in field of child protection in South Africa. Click on the link to access this broadcast: Raising awareness during Child Protection Week 2020. “Let us all protect children during COVID-19 and beyond”

Parents and Caregivers can familiarise themselves with five online safety guidelines from UNICEF

  1. Keep them safe with open communication
  2. Use technology to protect them
  3. Spend time with them online
  4. Encourage healthy online habits
  5. Let them have fun and express themselves

For more information click on the following link:   https://www.unicef.org/coronavirus/keep-your-child-safe-online-at-home-covid-19

Unicef  Press Release addressing the increased online harm situation for children during lockdown. https://www.unicef.org/maldives/press-releases/children-increased-risk-harm-online-during-global-covid-19-pandemic-unicef

More information also can be sourced on the Western Cape department of education - Cyber wellness page https://wcedeportal.co.za/teacher_categories_page/103006/eLearning/all/all/eLearning/Cyber%20Wellness?shs_term_node_tid_depth=103321

© 2019 National Education Collaboration Trust