The digital divide in Benin

An old phone next to a new smartphone.

Thanks to the internet and digital technologies, youth around the world can access information and follow the latest global developments. However, in Benin, a lot of young people and children do not have access to digital technologies and the internet.

Young people must purchase data packages on GSM networks that, due to the high demand, don’t cover the whole country properly. Thus, in each street corner you can find an internet cafe where young people who don’t have access to digital devices get together to access the internet, even though most of the cafes have outdated equipment.

According to a 2011 survey on living conditions from the Benin National Institute for Statistics, only 8.1 per cent of young people ages 15–34 use the internet, 46.9 per cent a mobile phone and 8.9 per cent a computer. This lack of access to the digital world puts young people at a grave disadvantage. As they do not have sustainable streams of revenue, they can’t spend money to purchase internet services, which are most of the time not even high-speed, despite the 4G connection promised by providers.

I have been in numerous situations where the lack of internet access was a serious problem. Last April, for example, I needed to do a video group call for my UNICEF Voices of Youth blogging internship. So I activated a 200MB package with my SIM card. However, my call was interrupted several times because of the low signal. It was a shame, since I was not able to get the information I needed for my internship.

Likewise, at school this year, I wasn’t able to submit my presentation on ‘The Characteristics of Microbes’ on time and I failed the assignment. The weekend I was supposed to work on my presentation it was impossible for me to connect to the internet. Many of my relatives had similar issues. My cousin, for example, wasn’t able to finish the application process to a volunteer programme because of a blackout of all internet services that lasted for four days.

All those accessibility challenges have a negative impact on our education and isolate young people living in Benin from the rest of the world. Programmes to improve the quality of and access to information and communication technologies for young people are highly needed. I call on leaders around the world to consider the thousands of young people who are excluded from opportunities that the internet provides.

This article was written by Emmanuella Ayivi, 15, as part of the 2017 State of the World's Children report.