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Children in the Digital Era: Role of Businesses to Support and Respect their Rights

Organized by: UNICEF

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Image by John Schnobrich


Digital technology can be a game changer for disadvantaged children, offering them new opportunities to learn, socialize and make their voices heard – or it can be yet another dividing line. Some 346 million children are left out of an increasingly connected world; in Africa, some 3 out of 5 children are offline compared to just 1 out of 25 across Europe. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed large inequalities in access to technology, such as between rich and poor, rural and urban, girls and boys, across and within countries. Online platforms which have often been the first to be rolled out to enable children to continue learning from home also have the lowest reach due to constraints related to electricity requirements, reliable Internet connectivity, as well as sufficient devices for children in the household. Another element of the digital divide concerns the digital literacy gap, a barrier that can be even harder to address.  Additionally, the online gender gap is growing; globally there are 12% more men using the internet than women. Girls far less likely to own or have access to digital devices, and fewer opportunities to gain digital literacy skills.
The internet now affects almost every aspect of life of millions of children worldwide. Bangladesh is no exception to this scenario. Information and communication technologies, including the internet, are revolutionizing children’s access to information, education and social networks. But with this growth in internet use and the constant rapid development of digital technologies, the nature of risks presented to children by the internet are evolving too. These risks can be categorized into three broad areas:

  • Content: exposing children to age-inappropriate material such as pornography, extreme violence, or content involving hate speech and radicalization;

  • Conduct: including bullying, sexting, harassing, being aggressive or stalking or promoting harmful behaviors such as self-harm, suicide, pro-anorexia, bulimia, illegal drug use or imitating dangerous behavior. Children’s own behaviors online may make them more vulnerable for example, through sharing personal information or by harassing or bullying themselves;

  • Contact: harm that can arise from interactions with other individuals online including being bullied, harassed, or stalked, meeting strangers, threats to privacy, identity and reputation and violence.

A study by Telenor Group in 2015 amongst 1,896 students in Bangladesh between ages 12-18 found that with regular access to social networks, children are becoming more exposed to peer pressures, such as being encouraged to visit unsuitable website or use bad language online. Some 49% of respondents advised that they had succumb to at least one form of peer pressure. Online risks to children can be categorized as; exposure to age-inappropriate material such as pornography, extreme violence, or content involving hate speech and radicalization.

But as technology opens access to knowledge, there is a real risk that people who cannot use these new tools will be left behind. Therefore, it is critical to increase understanding on the promise and perils of this vast source of information and to support children’s access into this. If children know how to safely use digital technologies and get the support they need, they will be able to access and use a whole new world of technical and personal skills. Henceforth, there are no such initiatives observed in Bangladesh either by Government or Civil Society Organization to equip children and the parents to face the revolutionizing access to information, education and social networks and be informed of the risks this entails and how to use the internet safely. UNICEF’s own research in 2018 identified that 80% of teenage internet users felt they needed stronger protection and safety support whilst online and that 20% had already fallen victim to online harassment and abuse. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the vulnerabilities of children in the online world.

The data from UNICEF supported Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) 2019, shows varied media access across Bangladesh:

  • Household with a mobile phone: 95.9%

  • Household with a television: 50.6%

  • Household with Internet: 37.6%

  • Household with a radio: 0.6%

  • % of women age 15-49 years who own a mobile phone: 71.4%

  • % of women age 15-49 years who used a mobile telephone during the last 3 months: 97.8%

Mobile operators build and operate mobile (wireless) communications networks, connecting people (and machines) and facilitating access to mobile-enabled services. Mobile operators provide customers with a range of different mobile services. Basic mobile services include access to voice calls, text messages (SMS) and some simple services such as mobile money and different voice and SMS-based information services (for example text messages providing basic health awareness information). Mobile operators also offer more advanced mobile systems through mobile broadband networks (from 3G to 5G) which enable their customers to access the internet and all the information, services and applications that are available online.

The total number of mobile phone subscribers has reached 165.3 million at the end of March 2020. Grameen Phone (GP) being the leader with 75.3 million, followed by Robi with 49.7 million, Banglalink with 35.4 million and Teletalk with 4.9 million subscribers respectively.

Session Objectives
The key objectives of this session is to convene key experts and influencers from Digital Learning, Child Protection and Business sectors from Bangladesh and other South Asian countries to share their insights and experiences from their respective sectors on how we can together address some of the key digital learning and child online safety issues, with a particular focus on South Asia and propose concrete recommendations to address key the gaps and barriers for a scaled and sustainable approach to address child online protection of children and adolescents.


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