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Essentials for creating effective awareness on being safe online

The National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has developed guidelines in view of the urgent need of mass awareness among various stakeholders i.e., children, parents, educationists and the general public about the potential risks and threats to children from the widespread and expanding use of technology in all aspects of day to day life - educational, social, work and financial.

Need for creating awareness on being safe online

Since technology has become and will increasingly become an integral part of our lives, it is necessary that children and those concerned with their protection are aware of the potential risks and harms and can prevent such harm through timely safeguards, responsible and informed use of technologies, and know where and from whom to seek assistance, if necessary.

Appropriate content for awareness generation

A standard content based on children’s rights based framework is essential for raising public awareness on being safe online. However, the information needs to be tailored for different audiences according to their profile (e.g., age, gender, location, and special circumstances), envisaged roles and expected responsibilities.

Ensuring accurate information through several channels that are commonly used by stakeholders, particularly children and young people, is critical for enabling responsible use of technology rather than control mechanisms, albeit selective supervision and oversight and guidance by concerned adults is desirable. For messages to be relevant for children and young people, agencies need to design communication and information materials and employ channels of communication based on a nuanced understanding of their communication and behavioral patterns. The importance of privacy and confidentiality should be negotiated and integrated within all educational initiatives considering the preferred channels of information through peers by this age group and the apprehensions regarding curtailment of their use of available technologies by the adults.

Enabling a conducive environment for effective awareness

The chances of success of efforts to raise public awareness on any issue are increased if the environment within which the communicator(s) and audience(s) are located is conducive. The messages need to connect with the audience(s) if they are to take action. The desired changes can however occur only when the audience(s) are able to act upon the acquired knowledge and skills.

Reporting and seeking help in the interests of child online safety are seriously constrained by grossly inadequate reporting channels and lack of basic services. Who should the victims approach? What kind of service would be available to them? Who will serve them? Such questions need answers and follow-up with concrete actions. Otherwise, increased awareness cannot be expected to translate into positive results for children.

The following are some recommendations for strengthening the context within which public awareness can effectively enhance online security for children. Increased awareness among the users can produce effective results in terms of strengthening the protective environment for children if the following conditions are met:

  • Comprehensive network for complaints redress: The existing ChildLine 1098 network should be empowered to handle complaints and counsel children for addressing their problems and effectively connect with school counsellors as well as a network of specialized technical, legal, psycho-social and welfare services.
  • Expansion of technical solutions for lodging complaints: A PANIC Button like the existing POCSO E-Box with NCPCR website should be created to trigger alarm and to route complaints on basis of priority to 1098 Helpline or the designated law enforcement officers.
  • Technically sound cyber nodals: State police should appoint cyber nodals who have the technical competence for handling such complaints in a prompt and sensitive manner.
  • Proactive role of service providers: Internet and mobile service providers should be engaged to create child online safety measures, products and simple, clear reporting channels. Mobile Associations and Ministry of Information Technology can create the platform for this.
  • Extensive training of trainers: Fairly quickly a human resource corpus for providing online safety orientation and training should be created with the help of experts.
  • Production of information, education and communication materials: In order to reinforce messages, various channels of information need to be employed. Social media, mass media, interpersonal communication, peer engagement, targeted campaigns, intergenerational communication and contracts - the opportunities are many and require creativity and strategy.

Framework for creating public awareness materials

Objective

Children, caregivers and society are sufficiently informed about:

  • Responsible use of information technology;
  • Risks and threats that children are exposed to online;
  • Prevention and reducing the risks;
  • Reporting cases of child online abuse and exploitation; and
  • Seeking appropriate assistance, including social support, psycho-social counselling support, technical and legal assistance.

Guiding principles

  • Positive and aspirational approach in educational initiatives;
  • Balancing children’s rights to learn, access information and privacy with their right to protection through appropriate safety measures that do not restrict opportunities to ensure optimal online learning with minimal risks;
  • Active role of children based on their evolving capacities and resourcefulness in promoting online safety and digital citizenship; and
  • Age appropriate and relevant educational materials to serve three age groups, viz., 5-10 years, 11-14 years and 15-18 years.

Checklists for adequate and comprehensive information materials

Convention on the Rights of the Child

Children’s rights in the digital age

Focus of materials for raising awareness on being safe online

Protection against all forms of abuse and neglect (Art. 19), including sexual exploitation and sexual abuse (Art. 34), and other forms of exploitation prejudicial to child’s welfare (Art. 36)

Measures to prevent the creation and distribution of online child abuse imagery, sexual grooming, and online dimension of child trafficking.

Make children aware of the risks, the precautions they must take, and if need be where and how to report and where to seek help.

Protection from ‘material injurious to the child’s well-being’ (Art. 17e), ‘arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, or correspondence, or unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation’ (Art.16) and right of child to preserve his or her identity (Art. 8)

Measures to prevent, manage and raise awareness of reputational risks, privacy intrusions, cyberbullying, pornography, personal data misuse (including identification of location-based and financial information)

Make children aware of the various threats and risks, the preventive measures and safeguards (Do’s and don’ts), who/where to seek help from and report to.

Provision to support children’s rights to recreation and leisure as appropriate to their age (Art. 31), an education that will support the development of their full potential (Art. 28) and prepare them ‘for responsible life in a free society’ (A. 29 (d))

Measures to provide educational technology, online information and creative resources and promote digital skills equitably (factoring in differentials in languages, access or conditions of disability or disadvantage)

Child-friendly normative discussion on digital citizenship (including respect for the rights of other users), responsible use of information technologies and “good practices”

Recognizing ‘the important function performed by the mass media’ encourages provision of diverse material of social and cultural benefit to the child (including minorities) to promote children’s well-being (Art. 17)

Measures to provide public and commercial educational, civic, science, cultural and heritage content online in an equitable way (as above)

Elements of safe digital environment for children as they seek diverse information materials through various online channels

Age-appropriate preventive online safety measures (opposed to measures that restrict access) that could be shared with parents, educators and general public.

Participation rights: ‘In all actions concerning children… the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration (A. 3(1)), including the right of children to be consulted in all matters affecting them (Art. 12); see also child’s freedom of expression (A. 13(1)) and freedom of association (A. 15(1))

Measures to include all children in diverse societal processes, including consulting them on matters of education, research and ICT governance.

Interactive models for seeking information, ideas and suggestions from children and young people [what is available or could be tested]

Development of materials for different groups of children

- gender sensitive content

- varied levels of complexity for different age groups

- access and usage differentials among urban, peri-urban and rural groups.

Group and individual counselling

Source : NCPCR's Being Safe Online - Guideline and standard content for raising awareness among children, parents, educators and general public.



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