SRSG renews call for an empowering, inclusive and safer Internet

New York 9 February 2016 - Speaking on the occasion of Safer Internet Day, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, Marta Santos Pais, renewed her call to ensure that the empowerment of children is at the heart of building a safer and more inclusive Internet:

“Information and communications technologies evolve and spread at a phenomenal speed. This evolution represents an amazing opportunity, which more and more children are availing of to learn, play, create, socialize, and express themselves. However, without determined and coordinated action, millions of children will continue to be excluded from the benefits of the Internet; child victims of on-line violence, abuse and exploitation will continue to multiply; and impunity for these offences will go unchecked.

To create a safe online environment for children we need responses that strike the appropriate balance between maximizing the potential of new technologies to promote and protect children’s rights and ensuring children’s safety and well-being. Rather than curtailing children’s natural curiosity and sense of innovation, it is critical to tap into their resourcefulness and enhance their capacities to surf the Internet with confidence and safety.

As we mark Safer Internet Day, I welcome the many awareness-raising and educational initiatives that are being promoted throughout the world to enhance children’s skills and tackle the challenges that persist.

One of those challenges is cyberbullying. Time and again, this is a problem children single out as a major concern. Cyberbullying can cause profound harm and is often associated with anxiety, fear, distress, anger, insecurity, lowered self-esteem, a strong sense of shame and at times even suicidal thoughts.

The response to this phenomenon has been uneven. It is urgent to address it with vigour and determination and ensure a steady investment in prevention. When children are supported and given the opportunity to learn life skills that increase their confidence and resilience, they become the most effective agents in preventing and coping with risks and in protecting other children.

Prevention efforts also include awareness-raising and social mobilization initiatives involving parents and professionals working with and for children.

Legislation is another crucial prevention tool, helping to avert cyberbullying before it happens, protecting child victims and fighting impunity, including by providing effective remedies and child-sensitive reporting procedures, and putting in place restorative approaches that repair the harm done while preventing the criminalization of children. This can in turn support the development of safe and peaceful learning environments, bringing about the cultural change in educational settings that is so fundamental to effectively precluding and tackling cyberbullying.

All violence is preventable; this is as true of violence mediated by the Internet as it is with its other manifestations. It is high time to make known and scale up effective strategies and efforts, and mobilize a truly global alliance to promote an empowering, safe and inclusive digital agenda for children. By doing so, we can ensure that the enormous potential of the Internet to enrich children’s lives is fully realized, leaving no one behind.”