Mobile devices put children at risk online, says UNICEF

Children on mobile phones

One in three internet users worldwide is a child, but too little is being done to keep them safe online, according to a new report by UNICEF

The report, 'Children in a Digital World' is UNICEF's first investigation into how digital technologies affect children around the world, and found that much work needs to be done to protect them online.

One of the main concerns the report highlights was 'the ubiquitous presence of mobile devices' which has made online access for children less supervised and therefore more dangerous. The risks identified include cyberbullying, access to harmful content and the misuse of children's personal data. The report also highlights much graver concerns about the dark web and cryptocurrencies, which it says are 'helping to enable exploitation and abuse', including child trafficking and online sexual abuse.

How can we improve online safety worldwide?

As well as tackling some of the most pressing and serious safety issues, the UNICEF report suggests that there's a digital gap, meaning that some of the world's most disadvantaged children, growing up in poverty or humanitarian crises, who would benefit from safe online access aren't able to get it. The report argues for the need to level this playing field at the same time as improving protection for those children who do have regular online access.

But how do we begin such a mammoth task? UNICEF says governments, educators, parents, private-sector companies and children's organisations need to get together to:

  • Provide affordable access to high-quality online resources for all children.
  • Do more to protect children from harm such as online abuse, exploitation, trafficking, cyberbullying and exposure to unsuitable content.
  • Help to safeguard children's privacy and identities.
  • Teach digital literacy to keep children informed and safe online.
  • Leverage the power of the private sector to advance ethical standards and practices that protect and benefit children online.
  • Put children at the centre of digital policy.

With 71% of young people now online, compared to just 48% across all age groups, and a demonstrable need to increase that figure to bring more children in poverty and vulnerable situations online, too, UNICEF says that thinking and planning for the digital world needs to put children front and centre.