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ITU launches initiative to protect children online

Children are the most vulnerable users of the Internet

Geneva, 13 November 2008 — ITU launched a new initiative today to safeguard children, the most vulnerable users of the Internet. Addressing ITU’s high-level meeting on cybersecurity by video message, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, "We have to protect against cyberthreats, especially when they target children. I welcome the ITU’s ‘Child Online Protection’ initiative and urge all States to support it."

The Child Online Protection (COP) initiative brings together partners from all sectors of the international community with the aim of creating a safe and secure online experience for children everywhere. While the virtual world offers unlimited opportunities in many respects, it is also the hunting ground for cybercriminals and paedophiles. Recognizing that a concerted global effort would be required to ensure that the cyberworld becomes a safe place for young people to work, learn and play, ITU is working with other UN agencies, including UNICEF, UNICRI and UNIDIR.

Promoting the rights of children is central to the mandate of UNICEF, as Dr Pascal Villeneuve, Associate Director of UNICEF in Geneva points out: "The world is rapidly changing. Issues around the protection of children increasingly involve some kind of online component. The Internet and telecommunications, for example mobile phones, present some major challenges in the context of child protection, but these technologies also make the world more connected — which means we have to be as well. That’s why we welcome efforts to combine expertise in combating cybercrime against children."

Sandro Calvani, Executive Director of the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) said, "UNICRI is proud to take part in the ITU initiative on Child Online Protection, acting in partnership with other agencies from the UN family. The UN is against any type of child abuse, which includes abuse online."

Along with UN agencies, other organizations have come forward to support the initiative. eWWG, a consortium of 37 international companies and universities, has come on board. "I am extremely optimistic about the potential impact that the COP initiative will have. By focusing our collective efforts on making the online world safe for children, we have the opportunity to really make a difference, especially in developing countries," says Salma Abbasi, eWWG founder and Chairman.

Companies like Intel, Microsoft and Telecom Italia have also pledged their support. Organizations, such as the European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA), the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and the GSM Association are fully behind the initiative. "It is vitally important that children across the world can go online safely and ITU’s Child Online Protection initiative is a significant step in that direction," said Rob Conway, CEO and Member of the Board of the GSMA. "Our support for this global initiative is part of a broader effort by our members to work with governments and other stakeholders to prevent mobile networks worldwide from being used to endanger children."

Other agencies, like the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children, INTERPOL and Save The Children have also signed on. "INTERPOL is committed to fighting Internet-related crimes against children, which it has set as one of the top priorities for international policing," said Kristin Kvigne, Assistant Director of INTERPOL’s Trafficking in Human Beings Sub-Directorate. "To achieve this priority, INTERPOL is working globally with partners and supports initiatives like COP to raise awareness and focus on the need to act locally and think globally to ensure the online protection of children."

Building confidence and security

At the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in 2005, ITU was entrusted by leaders of the international community with Action Point C5: "building confidence and security in the use of ICTs". As an intergovernmental organization with a network of 191 Member States and more than 700 Sector Members and Associates, ITU was a logical choice. In 2007, in answer to this responsibility, Dr Hamadoun Touré, ITU Secretary-General, launched the Global Cybersecurity Agenda (GCA), an international framework that addresses 5 main aspects:

  1. legal measures
  2. technical and procedural measures
  3. organizational structure
  4. capacity building
  5. international cooperation

The WSIS outcomes also specifically recognized the needs of children and young people and their protection in cyberspace. The Tunis Commitment recognized "the role of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the protection of children and in enhancing the development of children" and the need to "strengthen action to protect children from abuse and defend their rights in the context of ICT". The COP initiative is in line with ITU’s mandate to establish the foundation for a safe and secure cyberworld for future generations.

Investing in the future

The need for COP is clear. A decade ago, there were just 182 million people using the Internet globally — and almost all of them lived in the developed world. By the end of 2008, however, there will be over 1.5 billion Internet users worldwide, and more than 400 million of them will have broadband access — vastly increasing the dangers online, especially for children. With over 600 million users in Asia, 130 million in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 50 million in Africa, the Internet is a growing common resource. "ITU is the lead UN agency on ICT for Development," said Mr Sami Al-Basheer, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT). "In working towards an all-inclusive information society we must ensure that children everywhere can enjoy the benefits of ICTs while being protected from the risks posed by inappropriate use."

Cybersecurity has for several years been an important part of the ITU Development Bureau’s worldwide operations. In 2003, a Youth Programme was launched to promote tertiary education and job experience in ICT-related fields. In 2006, ITU’s Doha Action Plan established a Special Initiative on "Children and Youth" from developing countries and those in transition to improve their access, use and knowledge of ICTs to bridge the Digital Divide and help integrate them into the Information Society.

According to recent surveys, over 60 per cent of children and teenagers talk in chat rooms on a daily basis. Three in four children online are willing to share personal information about themselves and their family in exchange for goods and services. And one in five children will be targeted by a predator or paedophile each year.

While there are many established projects and programmes in developed countries to protect children online, there are very few in the developing world. COP’s key objectives are to:

  • identify key risks and vulnerabilities to children in cyberspace
  • create awareness of the issues
  • develop/promote practical tools to minimize risk
  • share knowledge and experience
  • facilitate international partnerships
  • As a platform for global cooperation, ITU aims to coordinate efforts behind protecting children online and make them more effective and accessible. ITU plans to hold the first World Congress on Child Online Protection in 2009 in Geneva. The COP initiative was presented at a High Level Segment, with top ministers attending from around the world. US Federal Communications Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate spoke on this initiative and urged global leaders to pledge their support. Other distinguished speakers at this session included Sherif Hashem, Executive VP, Info tech Industry Development Agency, Egypt; Pascal Villeneuve, Associate Director for UNICEF; and Christiane Agboton-Johnson, Deputy Executive Director for UNIDIR.

    Coordinating the many aspects involved in online security and getting agreement on how to tackle the issues will be complex as technologies evolve rapidly and different cultural viewpoints have to be considered.

    Dr Hamadoun Touré, ITU Secretary-General, said, "We all have a special responsibility to ensure the safety and security of our young people in the offline world just as we do in the online one in this new digital age.  Children are indeed our future."  

    For more information, please contact:

    Sanjay Acharya
    Chief, Media Relations and Public Information

    ITU
    Tel: +41 22 730 5046
    Mobile: +41 79 249 4861
    E-mail: sanjay.acharya@itu.int
     

     

     

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    Updated : 2008-11-14