UNICEF welcomed on Friday the government of Vietnam’s approval of the first-ever National Program on Child Online Protection for 2021-25, which aims to protect children from violence, exploitation and abuse on the Internet and support them to have safe and healthy online interactions.
“I congratulate the government for this milestone achievement,” Rana Flowers, UNICEF representative to Vietnam, was quoted as saying in a press release the same day.
“Growing up online offers limitless opportunities.
“But with these opportunities can come some serious risks.”
The new national program takes into consideration the need to balance addressing risks for children with the promise that digital access is a game changer for them.
It is intended to connect them to creative ways to learn, to solve problems, to build their understanding, and to provide them with the skills they need to succeed in a digital world, Flowers said.
Addressing online abuse requires a shared commitment of the government, self-regulation by online platforms, the will of regulators but stopping it will only be successful when parents are informed and aware and children themselves empowered with information on the risks and strategies to avoid and report such abuse.
UNICEF expresses concern for children’s online safety in five key areas, including unwittingly giving too much information away that allows predators to stalk, or criminals to commit fraud; too many hours spent playing violent online games; children convinced to share sexual images of themselves by friends or predators; vulnerability to ‘grooming’ by pedophiles who pretend to be the same age; and cyberbullying and abuse.
“Because this abuse occurs online, as parents we are often not aware of the risks, and we are not informed of the online experience that our children are suffering,” Flowers said.
“For the children, it is tragically isolating.
“When bullies bully in school, others are aware, but when it happens online, the cruelty, the abuse can dramatically impact children’s mental health and confidence, leaving them feeling isolated and alone.
“We encourage parents to have a conversation with children, to identify protective strategies, and we encourage children to stand up for each other, to share kindness and protect each other from abuse.”
A recent survey by UNICEF indicates that one in five children and adolescents in Vietnam has fallen victim to cyberbullying and harassment from peers, yet, three quarters are not aware where to seek help.
There is a growing number of cases reported in Vietnam of child sex offenders and traffickers, predominantly men, using the Internet and mobile phones to groom, entice, and blackmail children into subsequent exploitative situations.
For children who are online, little has been done to protect them from the perils of this abuse of the digital world or to increase their access to safe online content.
Under this new program, the Vietnamese government will work hand in hand with the ICT industry to keep up with the pace of change and to protect children from the new risks and harm they are exposed to and ensure that the Internet stays safe for them.
The private sector is encouraged to bring in different expertise, experiences, understandings, solutions, and opportunities to protect children online.
The program also aims to empower children and young people, as the central part of the solutions, to take advantage of the great opportunities the digital world offers, while equipping them with knowledge and skills to self-identify and be able to protect themselves when in cyberspace.
It sees a key role for parents, caregivers, and teachers in providing guidance and support to young people for safe and healthy online interactions.
With this program, the government is committed to developing laws, policies, practices, and products that can help children harness digital opportunities and protect them from harm.