How do we keep children safe in the digital age?
Growing internet connectivity is opening up exciting opportunities for our children. In remote areas in the Pacific there is greater potential to provide better communications and access to information through technology. But on the flip side of this is increased exposure of young people to online risks.
Catherine Bedford, Child Protection and Gender Advisor of Save the Children Papua New Guinea (PNG), says, “In PNG we have seen a dramatic rise in the number of internet users, with young people moving straight from no connectivity to having a phone in their hand, connected to the internet. Despite high internet costs, young people are the highest users of social media in PNG, with most not really understanding the risks involved.”
Damarish is a young person in PNG who experienced online abuse firsthand. She shares, “As a female I've faced a lot of sexual harassment online by men of all ages. I've been sent very obscene sexual content and messages but I ignored them, deleted the messages and blocked the user… Young people are being bullied and harassed on social media, particularly for girls, you can be targeted.”
In partnership with Facebook, the ‘I am Digital’ campaign is our response to this growing concern for online safety in the Pacific.
The campaign promotes digital literacy and advocates for positive online experiences not just of young people and children, but also of their parents.
Led by young people, for young people
‘I am Digital’ gives voice to young people who take the lead in the Pacific, with support and guidance from specialists in protection, gender and technology.
Shalome, Damarish, Sharlyn and Bethany participate in discussions among young people to promote online safety in PNG,
Photo: Rachel Tarsan, Communication and Campaigns Advisor
Drawing on their personal experiences, the young people work together to exchange ideas and come up with useful ways to help spread the word about online safety.
This collaboration helped produce a suite of educational materials in English, and in local languages Fijian iTaukei, Fiji Hindi, Samoan, Tok Pisin and Tongan. To make them accessible to young people, they are featured on the ‘I am Digital’ Facebook pages posted for each country.
As well as encouraging appropriate online behaviour, the materials also help young people to identify, avoid and address harmful content and activity.
A five-week social media campaign kicked off in February 2021 to further engage young people. It is the first online safety campaign in Fiji, PNG, Samoa and Tonga, and gains the support of well-known personalities in the Pacific.
Damarish explains, “This important campaign has given me the chance to advocate on online safety both while online and offline … Through this campaign we not only educate, but we safeguard users online from all forms of abuse or mischief.”
A partnership to keep children safe
The ‘I am Digital’ campaign is made possible through Save the Children’s partnership with Facebook.
“Children and young people in Pacific Island countries are rapidly increasing their online presence and activity, predominantly through social media. The ‘I Am Digital’ campaign recognises the importance of empowering them to do so in a way that is enjoyable as well as informative, safe and secure,” says Mia Garlick, Director of Policy, Facebook, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.
With this partnership, Save the Children is able to deliver programs that reduce online risk and keep young people in the Pacific safe from harm.