Fewer than 5 per cent of children under 15 use the internet in Bangladesh and Zimbabwe as disparities in access are particularly striking in low-income countries, Unicef said in its annual flagship report released on Monday.
These digital divides reveal broader socioeconomic divides – between the rich and the poor, men and women, cities and rural areas, and between those with education and those without, the report said.
For example, it said, 81 percent people in developed countries use the internet, more than double the proportion in developing countries (40 percent), which, in turn, is more than double the proportion in least developed countries (15 percent).
In 2017, Africa was also the region with the highest proportion of non-users among 15-to 24-year-olds – the population segment often considered to be highly connected, according to the report, reports UNB.
In Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, fewer than 1 in 20 children under 15 use the internet.
For children in these countries, challenges of poor quality connectivity are likely compounded by high data costs – most of the countries with the least affordable mobile--broadband prices are also among the least developed countries in Africa and Asia and the Pacific.
The State of the World’s Children 2017: Children in a Digital World presents Unicef’s first comprehensive look at the different ways digital technology is affecting children’s lives and life chances, identifying dangers as well as opportunities.
It argues that governments and the private sector have not been able to keep up with the pace of change, exposing children to new risks and harms and leaving millions of the most disadvantaged children behind.
Despite children’s massive online presence – 1 in 3 internet users worldwide is a child – too little is done to protect them from the perils of the digital world and to increase their access to safe online content, said the Unicef report.
“For better and for worse, digital technology is now an irreversible fact of our lives,” said Unicef Executive Director Anthony Lake. “In a digital world, our dual challenge is how to mitigate the harms while maximising the benefits of the internet for every child.”
The report explored the benefits digital technology can offer the most disadvantaged children, including those growing up in poverty or affected by humanitarian emergencies. These include increasing their access to information, building skills for the digital workplace, and giving them a platform to connect and communicate their views.
But the report shows that millions of children are missing out. Around one third of the world’s youth – 346 million – are not online, exacerbating inequities and reducing children’s ability to participate in an increasingly digital economy.
The report also examined how the internet increases children’s vulnerability to risks and harms, including misuse of their private information, access to harmful content, and cyber bullying. The ubiquitous presence of mobile devices, the report notes, has made online access for many children less supervised – and potentially more dangerous.
And digital networks like the Dark Web and cryptocurrencies are enabling the worst forms of exploitation and abuse, including trafficking and ‘made to order’ online child sexual abuse.
The report presents current data and analysis about children’s online usage and the impact of digital technology on children’s wellbeing, exploring growing debates about digital ‘addiction’ and the possible effect of screen time on brain development.
Young people are the most connected age group and worldwide, 71 percent are online compared with 48 per cent of the total population.
African youths are the least connected, with around 3 out of 5 youth offline, compared to just 1 in 25 in Europe.
Approximately 56 per cent of all websites are in English and many children cannot find content they understand or that is culturally relevant.
More than 9 in 10 child sexual abuse URLs identified globally are hosted in five countries – Canada, France, the Netherlands, the Russian Federation and the United States.
Only collective action – by governments, the private sector, children’s organizations, academia, families and children themselves – can help level the digital playing field and make the internet safer and more accessible for children, the report says.
The report made some practical recommendations to help guide more effective policymaking and more responsible business practices to benefit children.
It suggested providing all children with affordable access to high-quality online resources, protecting children from harm online – including abuse, exploitation, trafficking, cyber bullying and exposure to unsuitable materials, safeguarding children’s privacy and identities online and teaching digital literacy to keep children informed, engaged and safe online.
The report also recommended leveraging the power of the private sector to advance ethical standards and practices that protect and benefit children online and to put children at the centre of digital policy.
“The internet was designed for adults, but it is increasingly used by children and young people – and digital technology increasingly affects their lives and futures. So, digital policies, practices, and products should better reflect children’s needs, children’s perspectives and children’s voices,” said Lake.