- By Anayo Ezugwu
THE United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, has urged governments around the world to use digital technology to change children’s lives and explore what the future may hold for them. It said if leveraged in the right way and made universally accessible, digital technology can be a game changer for children being left behind whether because of poverty, race, ethnicity, gender, disability, displacement or geographic isolation.
UNICEF, in its latest report titled: ‘The State of the World’s Children 2017: Children in a Digital World,’ said government must use digital technology to connect children to a world of opportunity and provide them with the skills they need to succeed in a digital world. “But unless we expand access, digital technology may create new divides that prevent children from fulfilling their potential. And if we don’t act now to keep pace with rapid change, online risks may make vulnerable children more susceptible to exploitation, abuse and even trafficking – as well as more subtle threats to their well-being,” it stated.
This report argues for faster action, focused investment and greater cooperation to protect children from the harms of a more connected world, while harnessing the opportunities of the digital age to benefit every child. It noted that like globalisation and urbanisation, ‘digitalisation’ has already changed the world. According to the report, the rapid proliferation of Information and communications technology, ICT, is an unstoppable force, touching virtually every sphere of modern life, from economies to societies to cultures … and shaping everyday life.
“Childhood is no exception. From the moment hundreds of millions of children enter the world, they are steeped in a steady stream of digital communication and connection – from the way their medical care is managed and delivered to the online pictures of their first precious moments. As children grow, the capacity of digitalisation to shape their life experiences grows with them, offering seemingly limitless opportunities to learn and to socialise, to be counted and to be heard.
“Especially for children living in remote locations, or those held back by poverty, exclusion and emergencies that force them to flee their homes, digital technology and innovation can open a door to a better future, offering greater access to learning, communities of interest, markets and services, and other benefits that can help them fulfil their potential, in turn breaking cycles of disadvantage.
“But millions of children do not enjoy that access, or their access is intermittent or of inferior quality and they are most often the children who are already most deprived. This only compounds their deprivation, effectively denying them the skills and knowledge that could help them fulfils their potential and helping break intergenerational cycles of disadvantage and poverty.”
According to the report, digital technology and interactivity also pose significant risks to children’s safety, privacy and well-being, magnifying threats and harms that many children already face offline and making already-vulnerable children even more vulnerable. It stated that even as ICT has made it easier to share knowledge and collaborate, so, too, has it made it easier to produce, distribute and share sexually explicit material and other illegal content that exploits and abuses children.
The report revealed that such technology has opened new channels for the trafficking of children and new means of concealing those transactions from law enforcement. It has also made it far easier for children to access inappropriate and potentially harmful content – and, more shockingly, to produce such content themselves. “Even as ICT has made it easier for children to connect to one another and share experiences online, it has also made it easier to use those new channels of connectivity and communication for online bullying, with a much greater reach – and thus potentially greater risk – than offline bullying.
“Similarly, it has increased opportunities for wider misuse and exploitation of children’s privacy, and changed the way children regard their own private information. Even as the internet and digital entertainment have spurred tremendous creativity and expanded children’s access to a wealth of enriching and entertaining content, they have also raised questions of digital dependency, and ‘screen addiction’, among children.
“And even as such technologies have greatly enlarged platforms for the free expression of ideas, they have also broadened the distribution of hate speech and other negative content that can shape our children’s view of the world – and of themselves. Some of the impacts of digitalization on children’s well-being are not universally agreed. Indeed, some are the subject of growing public debate among policymakers and parents alike. And while the potentially equalising power of digitalisation on children’s chances in life cannot be denied, that promise has yet to be realised.”
The report regretted that these challenges will only intensify as the reach and range of digitalization expands and its many opportunities continue to be exploited commercially and otherwise. More digital devices, online platforms and applications will be available for children’s use. The Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and machine learning are here to stay, creating new opportunities but also new challenges.
– Dec. 15, 2017 @ 09:04 GMT