Safer Internet Day 2023 is being celebrated on the seventh day of February by about 200 countries all over the world and its aim is to promote a safer and better internet for everyone, especially children and young people. In this digital age, the internet has become an integral part of our lives, and it is important to ensure that we are using it in a safe and responsible manner. At the India Child Protection Fund (ICPF), supported by Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation US, we believe that staying aware and sensitizing the parents, teachers, children and youth is the first step to prevent the downsides of internet which includes to avert the harm caused by predators in the first place , behave responsibly on the internet and most importantly know where to report when untoward incidents happen.
As ICPF is focused on eliminating online child sexual exploitation and abuse (OCSEA) let us dive a little deeper on the reasons as to why there is under-reporting and what we can we do about it.
Stigma – Children do not know where to get support and at the same time fear of getting stigmatised by the peers and communities
Beliefs regarding sex – cultural taboos
In some cultures, there may be a strong stigma attached to discussing sexual matters, which can make it difficult for victims and their families to report abuse. Additionally, traditional cultural attitudes that place a premium on the reputation and honor of families can also discourage victims from reporting abuse, as they may fear being ostracized or shamed by their communities
Low awareness on reporting mechanism
Lack of trust in law enforcement: People may not trust the police or legal system to handle the matter appropriately and fear retaliation from the perpetrators.
Technical challenges: There may be a lack of digital literacy and access to technology that is required to report such crimes.
Legal barriers: The laws and procedures for reporting online child abuse and exploitation may be unclear or difficult to navigate
Guidance and counselling – Lack of availability of knowledgeable Counsellors and resources to deploy the same
School curriculum – not effectively integrated into curriculum
The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 of India mentions the need for including digital literacy and online safety in the school curriculum. The NEP emphasizes the importance of providing students with the necessary digital skills to participate in the digital world and highlights the need to equip students with the knowledge and skills to use technology safely and responsibly.
As parents and teachers, it is crucial that we play an active role in our children's online experiences and help them navigate the challenges and opportunities that come with technology. At ICPF, we use the acronym LISTEN and AVOID which can provide a useful framework for parents and teachers to follow in order to ensure their children's safety and well-being online:
L - Listen to your children's online experiences and concerns: Encourage your children to talk to you about their online experiences, both positive and negative. Take the time to listen and understand their perspectives, and show them that you are available to support them whenever they need it.
I - Invest in open and honest communication: Create an environment in which your children feel comfortable talking to you about anything, including online safety. Encourage open and honest communication by asking questions and being approachable. Regularly check in with your children to ensure they are comfortable and safe online.
S - Set clear rules and boundaries for internet use: Discuss with your children the appropriate time and places to use the internet, as well as the type of content they are allowed to access. Ensure they understand the consequences of breaking these rules and why they are in place.
T - Teach them about online safety and digital citizenship: Educate your children about the dangers and challenges of the internet, such as cyberbullying, online fraud, cyber grooming, identity theft and misinformation. Teach them how to be responsible and ethical online, and how to protect their personal information.
E - Educate themselves on the apps being used by their children: Learn about the use and mis(use) of the app .
N - Never hesitate to seek help and support if needed: If your children encounter a situation that makes them feel uncomfortable or threatened, remind them that it is important to seek help and support from you or another trusted adult. Ensure they know how to report incidents of cyberbullying or other online safety concerns.
A- Avoid sharing personal information: Teach your children not to share their personal information, such as full name, home address, phone number, or financial information, online. Encourage them to keep their social media accounts private and to think twice before sharing anything online.
V- Verify the source of information: Encourage your children to be critical of the information they find online and to verify the source of the information before accepting it as true. Teach them to look for reliable sources, such as reputable news outlets, academic journals, or government websites.
O- Observe online behaviour: Pay attention to your children's online behaviour, such as who they are talking to, what they are sharing, and how they are spending their time online. Encourage them to be mindful of the impact their online behaviour can have on others and to act with kindness and respect online.
I-Install security software: Make sure to install security software on your family's devices to protect against online threats such as viruses, malware, and hacking. Keep the software up to date and teach your children how to use it effectively.
D – Do not meet with strangers: Remind your children never to meet with someone they met online, no matter how friendly they seem, and to immediately report any requests to meet in person.
By following these 11 commandments, parents and teachers can empower their children to make informed choices, protect themselves from online harm, and enjoy the many benefits that technology has to offer. It is important to remember that online safety is a continuous process and requires ongoing effort and engagement from parents, teachers and children.
Government of India has already launched a ‘Stay Safe Online Campaign’ which can be effectively translated into action, if at every Parent-Teachers meet on a monthly basis, LISTEN and AVOID framework is taken up to understand and create awareness in schools. A self-certification process could be triggered and made compulsory for teachers and children to implement the tips needed to remain safe and get certified (Like I am Digitally Safe). Schools with more than 75% children certified could be applauded by the district education officials.
In conclusion, Safer Internet Day is a time to celebrate and raise awareness of the importance of online safety and to take action to create a safer and better internet for everyone.