“I congratulate the government for this milestone achievement. Growing up online offers limitless opportunities. But with these opportunities can come some serious risks. The new national programme takes into consideration the need to balance addressing risks for children with the promise that digital access is a game-changer for children – connecting them to creative ways to learn, to problem solve, to build their understanding and providing them with the skills they need to succeed in a digital world”, said Rana Flowers, UNICEF Representative to Viet Nam.
Addressing online abuse requires a shared commitment of Government, self-regulation by online platforms, of regulators but stopping online abuse will only be successful when parents are informed and aware and children themselves empowered with information on the risks and strategies to avoid and report abuse.
UNICEF expresses concern for children’s online safety in five key areas: a) unwittingly giving too much information away that allows predators to stalk, or criminals to commit fraud; b) too many hours spent playing violent online games; c) children convinced to share sexual images of themselves by friends or predators, called “sexting”; d) vulnerability to ‘grooming’ by paedophiles who pretend to be the same age and e) cyberbullying and abuse.
“Because this abuse occurs online, as parents we are often not aware of the risks, and we are not informed of the online experience that our children are suffering. For the children, it is tragically isolating. When bullies bully in school – others are aware, but when it happens online, the cruelty, the abuse can dramatically impact children’s mental health and confidence, leaving them feeling isolated and alone. We encourage parents to have a conversation with children, to identify protective strategies, and we encourage children to stand up for each other, to share kindness and protect each other from abuse” added Flowers.
A recent survey by UNICEF indicates that 1 in 5 children and adolescents in Viet Nam have been victim of cyberbullying and harassment from peers, yet, three quarters are not aware where to seek help. There is a growing number of cases reported in Viet Nam of child sex offenders and traffickers, predominantly men, using the internet and mobile phones to groom, entice and blackmail children into subsequent exploitative situations. For children who are online, little has been done to protect them from the perils of this abuse of the digital world or to increase their access to safe online content.
Under this new programme, the Government of Viet Nam will work for hand in hand with the ICT industry to keep up with the pace of change and to protect children from the new risks and harms they are exposed to and ensure that the Internet stays safe for children. Private sector and civil society organisations are encouraged to bring in different expertise, experiences, understandings, solutions and opportunities to protect children online.
The programme also aims to empower children and young people, as the central part of the solutions, to take advantage of the great opportunities the digital world offers, and equip them with knowledge and skills to self-identify and be able to protect themselves when online. The programme sees a key role for parents, care-givers and teachers in providing guidance and support to young persons for safe and healthy online interactions.
With this programme, the government is committed to developing laws, policies, practices and products that can help children harness digital opportunities and protect them from harm.
Over the past few years, UNICEF has worked to gain commitment, raise awareness and build capacity among key stakeholders to recognize and take action on the global crime of online child sexual abuse and exploitation, including the development of this national programme. “We will continue to work with all stakeholders to ensure the strong implementation of this programme as it is rolled out”, said Rana Flowers. “Together, we work to make the internet a safe place for children to learn, socialize and express themselves”, she added.