By JO TIMBUONGbytz@thestar.com.my
CYBERJAYA: The International Multilateral Partnership Against Cyber Threats (Impact) is helping countries prepare a framework to better protect children surfing the Web.
Director of Impact's centre for policy and international cooperation Philip Victor said the protection of children online is an issue the world agrees on equally, and each country wants a framework in place that protects youngsters from cyberpredators.
"Governments of the world may disagree on many things but they all agree that children's rights must be upheld, and this includes being able to surf the Internet safely," he told Bytz. Impact defines children as those under 18 years old.
Philip said children are heavy users of the Internet and about a million of them under the age of 13 have a Facebook profile, even if the popular social media site states that those under that age shouldn't be allowed to have a profile.
"This is due to peer pressure and they can be whoever they are on the Internet," he said.
It is peer pressure that also drives some children to add strangers to their social media profile, in a bid to see who has more friends. This risky behaviour also exposes the children to online predators, Philip said.
According to Impact, the biggest issues threatening child online safety is exposure to illegal content, cyberbullying, and child radicalisation websites.
"Children may stumble upon content that may not be for their eyes and even propaganda websites that are tailored to children to get them to empathise with a political or social cause. There are tragic stories about how they are affected by cyberbullies," Philip said.
He said that although the Internet is a good source of information, it can also be a minefield if proper precautions are not put in place.
"We want to take a holistic approach in helping countries form their own child online protection framework, and this involves helping countries set up laws governing child online safety, and getting partners such as governments, Internet service providers and communications industry regulators to lend a hand.
Philip said these pillars need to be in place to effectively promote child online protection, but this is easier said than done.
"The main challenge here is to find a balance in regulating the Internet so that certain parties do not unintentionally censor it," he said.
One way that may be effective in promoting child online safety, he said, is by expanding existing child safety laws to include cyberabuse or cyberharassment.
He said it would also be a good idea for local CERTs (computer emergency response teams) to set up a special hotline for children and parents to report issues threatening children's online safety.
Philip said one of the first countries that has asked Impact to help is Brunei and a delegation will be heading there next month to meet with stakeholders in the oil-rich kingdom.
"They have stakeholders who will be driving this initiative and we will be following up on the progress made after the meeting," he said.
As the cybersecurity arm of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Impact is responsible for carrying out tasks that concern cybersecurity.