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The Risks of Children’s Daily Lives Online

Explore the risks that children may face as a result of increased or newly introduced online engagement.

Increased online activity supports children’s learning, socialization, and play but may also expose them to increased online risks. COVID-19 has resulted in increased online activity by many children.

In some parts of the world where there is widespread internet access, Internet usage is up by 50%:

● Online learning platforms have reshaped learning for many children where schools are closed.

● Online games, social media, and video chat programmes are providing opportunities for many children to connect with their network and play with their friends, parents, and relatives while in isolation.

● Online methods are providing an opportunity for organizations to continue to work with and engage with children through all phases of the COVID-19 cycle.

While the internet can provide many benefits, increased internet use can put children at greater risk of online harm, such as sexual exploitation and cyberbullying. Organisations have a responsibility to mitigate risks when engaging children through online methods while also empowering them to safely use the internet.

Key online risks to children’s safety include:

Online sexual exploitation. It is highly likely that COVID-19 will heighten this risk. Spending more time online may increase the likelihood that children come into contact with online predators. Physical distancing measures are likely to increase children’s outreach to new contacts and groups online, where predators can groom children for sexual exploitation. With more adults isolated at home, there may also be additional demand for child sexual abuse material, leading to more commercial sexual exploitation of children.

Cyberbullying. This is a major concern among older children and has wide-ranging negative impacts. Cyberbullying may increase as a result of increased time online and the containment measures put in place to address the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has also introduced instant messaging, online gaming, and chat services to an increasing number of young children who may have limited online experience and be less resilient to bullying behaviour. Girls, children with disabilities and those perceived to be divergent from the ‘norm’ may be at increased risk of online bullying and discrimination.

Online risk-taking behaviour. A lack of in-person interaction with friends and partners may lead older children to engage in riskier behaviour online—for example, through sexting or the sharing of self-generated sexualized content—which may expose them to risks of extortion, harassment, and humiliation.

Potentially harmful content. Increased online activity may expose children to age-inappropriate and potentially harmful content, including content that is violent misogynistic, or xenophobic or that promotes political or ideological violence or incites suicide and self-harm. Children may also be exposed to a larger quantity of targeted online marketing that is age-inappropriate or that promotes unhealthy foods, gender stereotypes, etc. They may also be exposed to misinformation about COVID-19 that could drive additional fear and anxiety or, alternately, reduce their likelihood to follow health advisories.

Inappropriate collection, use, and sharing of data. Increased online engagement, including via educational technology, may result in the increased inappropriate collection and processing of children’s personal data by private companies. Children may also be increasingly exposed to digital marketing content and techniques.

● *Inadequate approaches for child safeguarding online.** With the rush to set up distance learning and other methods to connect with and engage children online, organizations may not have adequate child safeguarding policies in place to govern child-adult conversations via private networks and other online tools. Parents and caregivers may be unfamiliar with new technologies, limiting their ability to engage their children in a discussion about keeping safe online.

Your Task

Considering your own context, identify the risks that children may face from online engagement. What level of online access do children have in your context? What are the online sites, services and social media platforms that children frequently access? What harm may children come to through this access?


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Protecting Children during Infectious Disease Outbreaks

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