ITU introduces new global guidelines to protect kids online

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Doreen Bogdan-Martin, director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau.
Doreen Bogdan-Martin, director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) yesterday launched its 2020 guidelines on Child Online Protection (COP), aimed at ensuring a safe and empowering online environment for children and young people.

The ITU says while the Internet and related digital technologies opened new ways for children to communicate, learn and play, they also exposed them to a range of content, contact and harmful conduct online.

The guidelines come as the world grapples with COVID-19, which has seen technology being placed at the centre of managing the spread of the virus, further exposing children and young people online.

According to the ITU, the new guidelines were designed from the ground up to reflect the significant shifts in the digital landscape in which children find themselves, such as the Internet of things, connected toys, online gaming, robotics, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

The guidelines consist of four parts tailored to key audiences: children, parents and educators, industry and policymakers.

The guidelines for children are available in a child-friendly format and consist of a story book for children under nine, a workbook for children aged nine to 11, and a social media campaign and microsite for children and young people aged 12 to 18.

“These resources help children learn how to manage risks online, while at the same time empowering them to exercise their rights online and engage in opportunities the Internet presents to them,” says the ITU.

The guidelines for parents and educators serve as a practical tool to help them effectively support children and young people's interaction online, to sensitise families to the potential risks and threats, and help cultivate a healthy and empowering online environment at home and in the classroom.

The guidelines for industry aim at supporting industry players in the development of their internal COP policies, such as integrating child rights considerations into all appropriate corporate policies and management processes.

The ITU adds the guidelines help in “developing standard processes to handle child sexual abuse material; creating a safer and age-appropriate online environment; educating children, carers and educators about children’s safety and the responsible use of information and communication technologies; and promoting digital technology as a mode for increasing civic engagement”.

Policymakers are also included in the guidelines, as the ITU says they serve as a solid foundation on which to develop inclusive, multi-stakeholder national strategies, through open consultations and dialogues with children, to develop better-targeted measures and more efficient actions.

“ITU and its partners sought to create a highly usable, flexible and adaptable framework firmly based on international standards and shared goals, particularly the convention on the Rights of the Child and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.”

Commenting on the COP, ITU secretary-general Houlin Zhao says: “The question of how to ensure children's online safety in the age of COVID-19 is now more pressing than ever before. ITU's new guidelines on Child Online Protection are a very timely tool to safeguard the well-being, integrity and safety of our children, our most precious gift."

Doreen Bogdan-Martin, director of the ITU telecommunication development bureau, says: “The new COP guidelines are designed to serve as a blueprint that can be adapted and used by different countries and stakeholders in a way that is consistent with national and local customs and laws.

“They can be considered as an initial step in engaging all relevant stakeholders – governments, the private sector, parents and teachers' associations, and children themselves – in discussions around targeted measures and actions to create a safer online environment."

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