One third of Internet users are children – they need to be empowered to use the Internet safely and smartly. Photo: UN Viet Nam / Aidan Dockery

One third of Internet users are children – they need to be empowered to use the Internet safely and smartly. Photo: UN Viet Nam / Aidan Dockery

At the #WeProtect Children Online Global Summit hosted by the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom in Abu Dhabi, leading information technology companies, governments and international organizations have pledged to protect millions of children from online sexual exploitation, said the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Children make up one-third of all Internet users globally. With the rapid expansion of communication technologies shrinking the digital divide, protecting children online is an urgent global priority,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Fatoumata Ndiaye in a news release.

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According to UNICEF, governments in every region of the world have agreed to establish coordinated national responses between criminal justice systems, law enforcement agencies, frontline social service providers and education sectors to better protect children online.

The 17 countries in the UNICEF Global Programme to protect children from online sexual exploitation are; Albania, Algeria, Brazil, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, India, Jordan, Kenya, Madagascar, Montenegro, Namibia, Paraguay, the Philippines, Serbia, Uganda, Viet Nam.

Additionally, leading technology companies including Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo have also pledged to keep children safe by developing new technology, tools and expertise, UNICEF said.

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According to UNICEF, there are high levels of sexual exploitation of children online and an average of five child victims of online sexual abuse are identified by Interpol and police partners every day.

Further, UNICEF research revealed that the number of webpages containing child sexual abuse material grew by 147 per cent from 2012 to 2014, with girls and children 10 years old or younger depicted in 80 per cent of these materials.

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UNICEF said that at the first #WeProtect event last year, the United Kingdom Government pledged £50 million (approximately USD 71 million) to establish a Global Fund to End Violence against Children and an initial £10 million (USD 15 million) is supporting UNICEF’s global programme to protect children from online sexual exploitation in 17 countries and 6 regions around the world.

What happens in the online world is a reflection of society at large, as the dangers children face online are mirrored in the risks children face in their homes, schools and communities,” says Ms. Ndiaye.

Lastly, she stressed that protecting children online is a part of a growing global movement to keep children safe from violence, abuse and exploitation both virtually and physically.

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