Empowering Viet Nam’s young digital citizens
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UNICEF and partners explore the opportunities and risks that the country’s digital evolution presents for children
November 2012, Hanoi -- As Viet Nam experiences rapid growth in access to mobile phones and the Internet, UNICEF and partners are focusing attention on the impact of this digital expansion on children in the country. According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Internet penetration in Viet Nam doubled between 2006 and 2011 while the number of mobile phone subscriptions per 100 inhabitants jumped from 22 to 143 during the same time period – and children and young people are at the forefront of this surge in use.
To discuss the opportunities and risks for children resulting from this booming access to the Internet and Information and Communication technologies (ICTs), UNICEF Viet Nam convened a consultative workshop on 15 November in Ha Noi, with representatives from Government, academia and development partners, with the support of Yahoo!
The workshop formed part of the global UNICEF Digital Citizenship and Safety (DCS) project, which promotes the use of social media and digital tools to advance the rights of children in developing countries, while at the same time identifying the risks that they can pose. Viet Nam is one of nearly a dozen countries that have been part of the DCS project since 2010. As a leader amongst non-profit organisations on social media UNICEF sees an urgent need to make younger users aware of opportunities and threats online and to influence digital behavior positively through evidence-based communication and public advocacy.
Focusing the spotlight on online youth behaviours
The UNICEF-led workshop in Viet Nam was an opportunity for experts and policy makers to deliberate some of the existing data and trends on Internet and social media use by young people, and the implications for policies, service delivery and awareness-raising.
Discussions around the opportunities offered by digital tools focused on the potential to educational purposes. While data collected by UNICEF shows gaming, social networking and entertainment are the dominant activities online, more than half of urban children and one third of rural children surveyed reported using the Internet for educational purposes and sending education-related text or chat messages.
“UNICEF believes that by understanding how children and young people are using social media and other digital tools, they can be empowered to be responsible users for whom the benefit is maximised and risk is minimised”, said Jesper Moller, UNICEF Viet Nam’s Deputy Representative at the workshop.
Representatives from the Junior Reporters Clubs of Viet Nam participating in the workshop highlighted many other benefits of the Internet and social media, including the opportunities to connect with other young people around the world, to learn about other cultures and to foster global dialogue. The Junior Reporters assisted in investigating and gathering data on adolescent behaviours online in rural areas as part of the DCS project earlier this year.
Empowering children to avoid online risks
Children and young people are leading the digital uptake in developing countries but this also means that they are more likely to be exposed to negative online experiences. During the consultative workshop, experts discussed existing data on online risks for children in Viet Nam; gaps in understanding; and potential tool and strategies for addressing the issues. Low digital literacy among parents and access to the internet from private mobile devices or public spaces such as internet cafes, were identified as challenges for child safety online.
The particular risks of internet cafes in rural areas were captured by the Junior Reporters, who performed a short skit during the workshop touching on issues of gaming addiction, debt and the problem of unscrupulous owners.
Yahoo!’s Asia and Pacific Public Policy Regional Manager Nick O’Donnell addressed the topic of industry-led measures to guarantee child online safety while Professor Urs Gasser from the Berkman Centre for Internet and Society at Harvard University presented on various strategies and policy considerations for governments when dealing with digital citizenship and safety.The November workshop was the first opportunity for experts and partners in Viet Nam to come together to share knowledge and deliberate on strategies to empower children and adolescents to be responsible and confident users who take advantage of the opportunities offered by the online world, while also protecting themselves from potentially harmful or unpleasant situations.