In this article, I will discuss the ubiquity of online usage among children globally. As we all know, the Internet opens up a vast array of opportunities. As we all know, the Internet opens up a vast array of opportunities for all of us to connect with and form relationships with like-minded individuals, acquire knowledge and skills, and utilize one's voice to raise awareness on sensitive, timely social issues. For children, it is no exception. In fact, more and more children are starting to become connected to the Internet at younger ages. With that said, excessive internet use can open Pandora's box to a host of risks and challenges that directly and indirectly impact children and their holistic development. Throughout the article, I will employ an international human rights/law framework from a criminal justice/legal standpoint.
There are countless international law human rights instruments that elucidate children's human rights, namely The Convention on the Rights of the Child. A total of 193 United Nations (UN) member states, with the exception of Somalia, South Sudan, and the United States, have endorsed the convention making it one of the most widely ratified human rights instruments of all time. It has been endorsed by most United Nations member states, except for three countries-Somalia, South Sudan and the United States. 193 UN Member States are signatories of the CRC treaty. The CRC treaty delineates a wide range of economic, social, cultural, and political rights to which all children are legally entitled. The relevant CRC elements that pertain to children's rights to privacy and the right to freedom of expression are articles 12, 13, 14, 15,16, and 37, respectively.
UNICEF has published a practical, interactive toolkit for industries to utilize to assess companies' existing technological safeguarding practices about using and storing children's data. Additionally, the interactive toolkit spells out the fundamental principles of children's rights from a virtual perspective. All societal actors, including law enforcement, businesses, educators, caregivers, childcare professionals, and so forth, have an ethical obligation to respect and honor children's human rights, especially in an online context. According to UNICEF, all children have the right to privacy and security protection of their data. The second fundamental principle is all children have the right to refrain from personal, defamatory attacks on their character and reputation. Thirdly, societal actors must recognize children's holistic development from all domains(physical, emotional, social, and cognitive). The design of online platforms, interfaces, and applications should reflect their continuous growth and evolution. Last but certainly not least, all children have the right to seek proper recourse for any violations of their rights.
As I have stated in my introduction, it is, without question. The Internet has tremendously changed our lives in ways we could have never dreamt of. It has made it easier for children to connect with their friends and family, acquire information, and utilize their voice and platform to raise awareness on pertinent social issues, such as Asian hate crimes, racial injustice, police brutality, and so forth. Internet usage among children and youth is astronomically growing at staggering rates. Did you know that about 1/3, or about 33%, of Internet users are children? In 2018 alone, about 122 million children went online for the first time daily. This statistic is mind-boggling to me!
However, there is no doubt that the ubiquitous use of the Internet can bring about a plethora of potential risks and dangers that can, directly and indirectly, impact children and their overall well-being. I came across disturbing statistics of the heightening rates of sexual abuse and exploitation against children and child sexual abuse material(CSAM). Cyberbullying/cyberaggression is another severe issue worth raising awareness about. The inspiration behind my reasons for writing about this topic as a blog post is its timeliness, relevance, and the various adverse longer-term consequences of cyberbullying and sexual abuse and exploitation against children. Cyberbullying is "the utilization of digital platforms to denigrate, exclude, harass, and tease an individual or group." According to UNICEF, about 33% of youth have disclosed being victims of cyberbullying, which is incredibly heartbreaking to hear. Another unsettling statistic is about 20% of school truancies have resulted from incidents of cyberbullying.
Sexual exploitation and abuse is another hot-button issue plaguing children in many different countries all over the world. Sexual exploitation and abuse is an umbrella category of sexual abuse affecting children in which a power imbalance exists between a perpetrator and a victim. Moreover, child sexual abuse material (CSAM) is any visual depiction of children performing and engaging in sexual acts with a perpetrator or another victim or more than one victim. Words and legal jargon significantly matter when criminalizing offenses against perpetrators for their heinous crimes against child victims. CSAM is a much broader umbrella term than the term child pornography. The latter phrase gives off a stigmatizing, negative connotation because it can mislead folks into believing that children consented to want to engage in pornographic acts. Due to their physical and cognitive immaturity, children cannot readily agree and lack understanding of sexual behavior. Hence, children of younger ages(infants and toddlers) are easy targets for sex offenders to prey on, which is sadistic and cruel to me. I cannot fathom why any adult would be sexually attracted to children or would want to harm them in any way. It will never make any sense to me! Children are precious and resilient human beings; We must protect and nurture our youth.
The International Criminal Police Organization, or colloquially known as INTERPOL, is an inter-governmental organization that works with law enforcement officers internationally to carry out their policing duties to help protect citizens from danger. INTERPOL disseminated a report in February 2018 entitled "Towards a Global Indicator on Unidentified Victims in Child Sexual Exploitation Material." The statistics presented in the report were sobering and chilling. Approximately 84% of images on the web contained sexually explicit material. Another alarming stat mentioned in the report stated that about 60% of victims of sexual abuse and exploitation comprised pre-pubescent children. And of those victims, about 65% were girls. Men made up about 92% of offenders. A final unsettling statistic I would like to close out with is boys are more highly susceptible than girls to be involved in child abuse sexual material(CSAM).
In closing, children are at a greater risk of becoming victims of any form of sexual abuse and exploitation. The COVID-19 pandemic has created havoc in many facets of our lives. Due to the lockdown and stay-at-home measures that health officials enforced last year, the virus has opened up the floodgates for abuse, violence, and exploitation to occur and put marginalized groups, such as women and girls, at risk of further discrimination, exclusion, and abuse. And children are no exception. Since COVID, there has been a cornucopia of published articles and a heightened awareness of children experiencing online sexual abuse and exploitation, cyberbullying, cyberaggression, and exclusion based on factors such as race, sexual orientation, and gender, etc.
United States, Congress, General Assembly , and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres . UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children, United Nations General Assembly , 30 July 2018. undocs.org/A/73/265.
UNICEF. “Protecting Children Online.” UNICEF, 8 Feb. 2021, www.unicef.org/protection/violence-against-children-online.
Global Alliance, WEPROTECT. WeProtect Global Alliance, 2019, Global Threat Assessment 2019, static1.squarespace.com/static/5630f48de4b00a75476ecf0a/t/5deecb0fc4c5ef23016423cf/1575930642519/FINAL+-+Global+Threat+Assessment.pdf.
“Crimes against Children.” INTERPOL, www.interpol.int/en/Crimes/Crimes-against-children.