UNICEF on Tuesday warned of the dangers posed by online violence, cyberbullying and digital harassment for 32 per cent children aged between 10 and 17 years who go online in Bangladesh and called for concerted action to tackle and prevent violence against children and young people online, according to UNICEF.
A recent study titled, Online Safety of Children in Bangladesh, commissioned by UNICEF Bangladesh, surveyed 1,281 students from school, college, Madrasah streams of education in Bangladesh who use internet.
UNICEF Bangladesh disseminated the findings of the study in a discussion at Janata Tower in the capital’s Karwanbazar marking Safer Internet Day.
With the sky-rocketing growth of internet population in Bangladesh, which witnessed 800 times growth since 2000, the online population in Bangladesh is getting younger with children as young as 11 accessing and using the internet daily.
Among other forms of cybercrime, the study also explored exposure to religious provocation, some 10 per cent of the children reported facing religiously provocative content. Boys and older children aged between 16 and 17 have been exposed to such provocative content more than other groups of children.
‘We’ve heard from children and young people from Bangladesh and around the world and what they are saying is clear: The Internet has become a kindness desert,’ said Edouard Beigbeder, UNICEF Bangladesh Representative, in the discussion.
‘That’s why this Safer Internet Day, UNICEF is following young people’s lead and inviting everyone to be kind online, and calling for greater action to make the Internet a safer place for everyone, especially children,’ he said.
‘It is time for governments, families, academia and, critically, the private sector to put children and young people at the centre of digital policies,’ the UNICEF Bangladesh Representative said.
Addressing the discussion, posts, telecommunications and information technology ministry minister Mustafa Jabbar said the government had initiated a move to control pornographic websites by March this year.
The move was taken under a project as a part of online security measures to secure the citizens, particularly the children of the country from bad contents on internet, he said.
According to the UNICEF Bangladesh study, about 25 per cent of the children aged 10-17 started to access the digital world below the age of 11. Besides, 63 per cent of the children use their own room as the primary internet usage point. This indicates the prevalence of ‘bedroom culture’ which allows less supervised internet use.
In Bangladesh, boys (63 per cent) are ahead of girls (48 per cent) in terms of high frequency online access and use, they said.
Chatting online and watching video are the two most frequent internet activities with 33 per cent chatting online and 30 per cent watching video daily. In the study, it surfaced that a staggering 70 per cent of the boys and 44 per cent girls admitted to befriending unknown people online, while a section of the respondents even admitted to meeting the unknown online ‘friends’ in person risking their safety.
While older children may be more exposed to cyberbullying than younger ones, children are not immune from harmful content, sexual exploitation and abuse, and cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying can cause profound harm as it can quickly reach a wide audience, and can remain accessible online indefinitely, virtually ‘following’ its victims online for life.
Victims of cyberbullying are more likely to use alcohol and drugs and skip school than other students.
They also are more likely to receive poor grades and experience low self-esteem and health problems. In extreme situations, cyberbullying has even led to suicide.
Terming the findings in the report a matter of worry, Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar Forum director Abdus Shahid Mahmood told New Age that the parents as well as the schools should control the use of android phones that allow a student to use online. ‘There should be an age limit of giving one an android phone and allowing him or her in the centres that offer online access.’
‘Besides, the issue should be incorporated in the child-related laws,’ he said.
Aparajeyo Bangladesh executive director Wahida Banu, however, said that the situation could be overcome by giving them positive idea about new technologies showing honour to their curiosity, behaving friendly with them by their parents and his effective participation in family affairs as well as engaging them in activities so that they could get a healthy environment to grow up.
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