Lilongwe — Emerging technologies, fast internet connectivity and applications has led to more risks for children and youth online with current figures showing that 1 out of 3 children are suffering from online abuse.
Regional Programme Officer for the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Anne Rita Ssemboga, said this during the stakeholders' forum on the development of a national Child Online Protection (COP) framework for Malawi in Lilongwe on Monday.
Ssemboga said the fast expansion of mobile broadband, combined with more affordable and diverse mobile devices is enabling access to the cyberspace by youth and children, making them more exposed to the risks in the digital world.
She therefore said it is critical for parents, educators, caregivers, government and other stakeholders to have a harmonised approach that will tackle and ensure children and youth online safety and security while taking full advantage of all opportunities in educational and social-economic development through the use of ICT.
"Through development of the COP framework in Malawi, we want to see the country harness the maximum benefits offered by ICT, particularly through safe and productive use of internet by its children," she said.
Since the launch of the COP initiative by ITU in 2008 which was done alongside UNICEF and other COP partners, practical tools have been developed to assist governments, industry and educators to promote awareness of child and youth safety in the online world.
The ITU Programmes Officer has commended Malawi for being in the forefront in addressing the concerns for child online protection in Africa having also hosted the annual capacity building workshop on Child Online safety for African countries in 2016.
ITU have partnered with Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) to offer technical support for the first ever COP framework development task in Malawi which will take two days.
Director General for MACRA, Godfrey Itaye, said it is important to protect children from the vast amounts of content that children stumble upon while surfing on internet whether knowingly or otherwise some of which is inappropriate.
"The children born in this digital age embrace internet and technology as if it is part of their DNA, using it as a platform for learning and research, chatting with friends, sharing videos and photos, playing interactive games and literally accessing the world.
"Internet has become an integral part of their daily lives. They are exposed to these inappropriate contents and are vulnerable to accept and engage themselves in similar activities," said Itaye.
He said it is rather unfortunate that in most cases the ease with which children navigate the net far surpasses the knowledge of most parents or guardians who are mostly unaware of what the children are surfing on the internet.
"Even though the internet penetration might appear low as compared to other countries, it offers Malawi an opportunity to put in place security measures for child online protection more than before as more children and young people get on line as internet penetration increases," he said.
In 2014, the National Statistical Office (NSO) and MACRA coordinated a National ICT Access and Usage survey which revealed that internet penetration in Malawi is at 17.6 per cent and out of this, five per cent belongs to users between the ages of 0-24yrs.
Facebook Users Statistics for Africa by June 2017 indicated that Malawi had about 15 thousand internet users in December 2000, which has increased to over 1.5 million by June this year (2017), translating to internet growth rate of 11.6 per cent with 720 thousand Facebook users by June 2017.
"The social media network poses additional risks and threats to young people as their identity and privacy are susceptible to online intrusion. Children expose themselves by posting personal IDs, emotions, location and images on social networking sites," said Itaye.
By the end of 2017, projections show that some 3.58 billion people will be online worldwide, an equivalent of 48.0 per cent of the global population. New data is also showing that 70 per cent of the world youth are online.