Creating safe digital spaces

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News: It is imperative that digital and social media platforms are free of cyberbullying. Govt must step up its efforts to counter this menace.

Recently, UNESCO Member States declared the first Thursday of November as the International Day against Violence and Bullying at School, including cyberbullying.

It has recognized that school-related violence is an infringement of children’s right to education and to health and well-being.

The aim is to raise awareness among students, parents, members of the school community, education authorities, and others about the problem of online violence and cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying is defined as intentionally harassing someone with rude, mean and hurtful messages.
Why we must ensure safe digital spaces for children in India?

An increasing number of Child internet users: India’s active Internet user base is over 500 million. Out of this, an estimated 14%  are children aged 5-11 years who access the internet on the devices of their family members.

Increased incidence of cyberbullying and online child sexual exploitation by adults: School closures as a response to the COVID-19 lockdowns led to an unprecedented rise in unsupervised screen time for children and young people. This in turn exposed them to a greater risk of online violence.

Published in 2019 and drawing on data from 144 countries, UNESCO’s report ‘Behind the numbers: Ending school violence and bullying’ highlighted the extent of the problem, with almost one in three students worldwide reporting being bullied at least once in the preceding month.

Negative consequences of Cyberbullying: There is growing scientific evidence that suggests that cyberbullying has negative consequences on the education, health, and well-being of children and young people. For instance, children who are frequently bullied are more likely to miss out on school. They have a higher tendency to leave formal education after finishing secondary school.

How can we ensure safe digital space for children?

Effective interventions: This requires gender-sensitive and targeted approaches that respond to the needs of learners who are most likely to be the victims of online violence.

Role of the education system: Concerted efforts must be made to provide children and young people with the knowledge and skills to identify online violence. This will allow them to protect themselves from its different forms.

Role of teachers: Teachers play a critical role by teaching students about online safety, and thus supporting parental involvement.

Grievance redressal: Confidential reporting and redress services must be established.

What steps have been taken so far?

UNESCO in partnership with NCERT has brought out an information booklet on Safe Online Learning in Times of COVID-19.

The Department of School Education and Literacy has circulated exhaustive guidelines to raise children and parental awareness to prevent the adverse effect of online gaming and the psycho-emotional stress that children could be undergoing.

Source: This post is based on the article “Creating safe digital spaces” published in The Hindu on 15th Nov 2021.

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