UNITED NATIONS, Feb. 9, 2019 -- The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) on Tuesday called for concerted action to tackle and prevent online violence, cyberbullying and digital harassment against children and young people on the occasion of Safer Internet Day.
UNICEF made the call after a recent poll of young people, which received more than 1 million responses from more than 160 countries, and suggestions from a series of student-led #ENDviolence Youth Talks held around the world.
"We've heard from children and young people from around the globe and what they are saying is clear: the Internet has become a kindness desert," said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore in a press release. "That's why this Safer Internet Day, UNICEF is inviting everyone -- young and old -- to be kind online, and calling for greater action to make the Internet a safer place for everyone."
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, said UNICEF.
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 led to suicide, said UNICEF.
On Safer Internet Day, UNICEF is reminding everyone that kindness -- both online and offline -- is a responsibility that begins with each of us, said the press release.
"Thirty years after the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the creation of the World Wide Web, it is time for governments, families, academia and the private sector to put children and young people at the center of digital policies," said Fore.
The Internet has become a fixture of young people's lives regardless of income level, said UNICEF.
While 94 percent of young people aged 15 to 24 in developed countries are online, more than 65 percent of young people in developing countries are online. This is well ahead of the pace of Internet usage among the general population. Worldwide, half of the total population, regardless of age, is online, UNICEF quoted figures of the International Telecommunications Union as saying.
This online proliferation comes with increased risk, said UNICEF. According to data from the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization on the prevalence of cyberbullying in high-income countries, the proportion of children and adolescents who are affected by cyberbullying ranges from 5 percent to 21 percent, with girls appearing to be more likely to experience cyberbullying than boys, it said.