UNICEF and social media giant Facebook launched a year-long program Friday aimed at reaching 25 million Bangladeshi children and strengthening awareness among parents and educators about protecting them from the perils of the digital world.
More than 10,000 students from at least 100 schools joined teachers, parents, policy makers and internet industry leaders, along with 2 million online visitors, in the kickoff event at a theater in Dhaka, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced in a news release.
“The internet was designed for adults, but it is increasingly used by children and young people – and digital technology often affects their lives and futures. So, digital policies, practices, and products should better reflect children’s needs, perspectives and voices,” UNICEF Bangladesh Representative Edouard Beigbeder said at the kickoff event.
In response, the chairman of Bangladesh’s Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, Shahjahan Mahmood, said the commission was considering limiting children’s access to the internet in order to shield them from its potential dangers.
“This [social media] is an addiction like opium. We have been discussing the possibility of limiting the use of social media, especially by children. This is at the planning stage now,” Mahmood told BenarNews.
He said technology would allow adults to monitor sites visited by children.
“Those watching unproductive and bad sites can be charged more. This can be one strategy,” he said.
Telecom Minister Mustafa Jabbar, on the other hand, said he wanted to use the internet for the educational benefit of boys and girls.
“We have been trying to expand education through use of social media and different tools of information technology,” Jabbar told BenarNews. “I do not think Facebook and other social media hamper education.
“Our duty is to make people aware of the dangers. Blocking [internet access] is not the solution,” he said. “The government must not do anything relating to social media that may harm education,” he said.
Keeping children safe online
A lack of adequate knowledge about proper internet use increases vulnerability to risks, including misuse of their private information, access to harmful content and cyberbullying, according to UNICEF’s “State of the World’s Children 2017: Children in a Digital World” report, released in December.
People between the ages of 15 and 24 are the most-connected age group in the world with 71 percent having an online presence, compared to 48 percent of the total population, the report showed. In addition, children younger than 18 account for one in three internet users around the world.
“Smartphones are fueling a ‘bedroom culture,’ with online access for many children becoming more personal, more private and less supervised,” the report stated.
On Friday, UNICEF and Facebook announced that the program would focus on promoting more effective policy making and more responsible business practices aimed at Bangladeshi children.
Their goals include providing all children with affordable access to high-quality online resources, protecting children from online harm while safeguarding privacy and “teaching digital literacy to keep children informed, engaged and safe online.”
“Children are increasingly spending more time online at younger and younger ages and it’s important to teach them to how protect themselves online and remain safe. Online safety, today, is a critical and important conversation and between parents and kids, teachers and students,” said Ritesh Mehta, Facebook’s head of programs in India and South Asia.
“With this partnership we want to encourage conversations about safety and technology early and often, in the same way we talk about being safe in public places or while playing or at school.”
A parent’s view
Mosharraf Hossain, the father of a secondary school student, welcomed the joint effort by UNICEF and Facebook in his country.
“This is a very good initiative for us. Safe internet has been demanded by everybody,” he told BenarNews.
Many schools assign online class work, and children in affluent and even lower middle-class families have unhindered internet access, he said.
“So, the children can easily go online. This is really very difficult to monitor what they have been surfing,” Hossain said, adding that children use smart phones to access the internet.
“We have come to know from media that many meritorious students have been involved in militancy and are being radicalized online. Pornography is another threat,” he added. “We cannot keep our children away from internet. So, internet use must be safe.”