Geneva: The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday published a new report, presenting ways to address the growing worldwide concern about keeping children safe online.
The report titled “What works to prevent online violence against children,” showcases strategies and best practices to better protect children. The report focuses on two forms of online violence: child sexual abuse including grooming and sexual image abuse; and cyber aggression and harassment in the form of cyberbullying, cyberstalking, hacking and identity theft.
“Our children spend more and more time online; as such, it is our duty to make the online environment safe,” notes Etienne Krug, Director of the WHO Department of Social Determinants of Health. “This new document provides for the first time a clear direction for action by governments, donors, and other development partners, showing that we must address online and offline violence together if we are to be effective.”
To prevent online violence against children, the report highlights the importance of implementing educational programmes directed at children and parents. Studies have shown such programmes’ effectiveness in reducing violence victimization, perpetration and associated risk behaviors like alcohol and drug abuse.
“The report recommends implementing school-based educational programmes with multiple sessions, promoting youth interaction and engaging parents. It also underscores the importance of training youth in specific life skills such as assertiveness, empathy, problem-solving, emotion management and help-seeking, among others,” the WHO said.
Moreover, educational programmes are more successful when they use multiple and varied delivery formats such as videos, games, posters, infographics and guided discussions.
The report shows evidence that comprehensive forms of sex education can reduce physical and sexual aggression, in particular, dating and partner violence and homophobic bullying. The effectiveness of sex education has been confirmed in countries of all income levels.
The report highlights the need for improvements in several areas including the need for more violence prevention programmes that integrate content about online dangers with offline violence prevention, given the overlap of these problems and the common approaches to prevention.
The report also points how less emphasis on stranger danger as strangers are not the sole or even the predominant offenders in online violence against children.
It asks for more emphasis on acquaintance and peer perpetrators, who are responsible for a majority of offenses; and more attention to healthy relationship skills, since romance and intimacy-seeking are major sources of vulnerability to online violence.
According to WHO report, internet access offers many possibilities for children and young people, including fostering learning, developing personal and professional skills, expressing creativity and participating in society.
The UN agency said that governments need to find the right balance between fostering opportunities for young people through the digital environment and protecting them from harm.