There are only a few studies or recommendations specifically addressing technological safety issues for children in developing nations. Instead, we have approached the issue tangentially by looking to two main bodies of research: those related to technological safety for children in developed nations and those focusing on technological penetration and usage in developing nations.
During our preliminary literature review, we found that studies in developed nations indicate that the biggest risks to children online are cyberbullying, exposure to inappropriate or illegal material, and sexual or other abuse either over the Internet or in-person. The brief summary of our key findings have been published in the exploratory study Working Towards a Deeper Understanding of Digital Safety for Children and Young People in Developing Nations.
The exploratory study, “Working Together Towards a Deeper Understanding of Child Online Safety in the Developing World” is a peer-reviewed paper, written as a collaboration between the Youth and Media project at the Berkman Center and UNICEF. This paper maps existing literature, summarizes findings, and gives a tentative map of a research framework through a series of working hypotheses.
Policy Oriented Paper
Currently we are finishing a follow-up paper, “Future Approaches and Policy Mechanisms for Promoting Digital Safety for Children and Young People in Developing Nations.” This has a stronger policy orientation, and connects currently existing research and policy with an exploration of possible future directions. The paper addresses the relevance of access points, education and culture, and the legal and policy context. It discusses specific issues of sexual violence, grooming, sexting, and online harassment, drawing on available scholarly literature, case studies, and governmental and organizational reports. The paper both gives policy recommendations and proposes a larger policy framework.
The mobile market has taken off in developing countries, and there are many indications that mobile Internet is soon to follow. This is predicted to be the easiest, most accessible and cost-efficient way to provide Internet access in areas where the information environment is often underdeveloped because of a barriers like lack of infrastructure for fixed-line broadband, lack of accessible computers and electricity, competition, literacy requirements, regulations, and high costs. If the trend develops as expected, this could be a good opportunity to take actions to ensure children use this medium safely as many of them encounter it for the first time, encouraging the spread of best practices.
Further Questions and Actions
The overall problem encompasses many more specific issues, and it will be important to take a multi-pronged approach. One of the next steps should be identifying the problems children in developing nations are facing and map these issues in the respective technological, social, and economic context; from there, we will be better equipped to develop tangible, accessible targeted solutions and resources. Drawing upon ideas from the ITU’s Child Online Protection initiative, we will need to engage all levels of players: children, parents/educators, industry, and government.
Strategic Framework Moving Forward