May 20, 2009

UN Sets Guidelines To Protect Children From Online Risks

The U.N. International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is establishing new guidelines to protect children from cyberbullying, online sexual predators and fraudulent online commerce, the agency said Wednesday.

"We must do everything in our power to create a healthy online environment for our children," an AFP report quoted Hamadoun Toure, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunications Union, as saying.

The ITU is also trying to maintain confidence in the Internet as a tool for knowledge, education, business and trade. 

There were roughly 1.5 billion Internet users worldwide at the beginning of 2009.

According to recent surveys, some 60 percent of teens and children who access the Internet talk in online chat rooms.  Nearly 75 percent of these youngsters said they were willing to share personal information for commerce, while 20 percent could be targeted by predators, the ITU said. One study found that roughly 15 to 20 percent of European children have been bullied, stalked or harassed online, while 25 percent have received unwanted sexual comments.

The initial draft of the ITU's guidelines released on Wednesday are directed towards industry, policymakers and parents as well as children.

Dieter Carstensen of the charity Save the Children Fund, one of the experts consulted about the new guidance, told the AFP that informing children of the potential risks of going online is the best form of defense.

The new guidelines advise youngsters to set limits, meet online friends offline, be cautious about accepting online invitations, and to inform someone of any concerns.

However, the ITU said children must also be educated as "digital citizens in an online world that has no borders or frontiers."  This includes installing firewalls, anti-virus software and identifying suspicious communications.

John Carr, secretary of the Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety (CHIS), told the AFP that governments worldwide must provide protection for minors in both the real and online worlds.

The ITU guidelines advised legislators to ensure full resources and legal powers were available to combat child abuse material online or Internet enticement of minors. They also support a national registry of sex offenders that would limit Internet access for those registered.

The agency said such protection was crucial to prevent the justification of "entirely unrelated assaults on free speech, free expression or freedom of association" if the hurdles for children were left unaddressed.

The non-binding guidelines will be reviewed at a conference in Tokyo on June 2, and are expected to be finalized in October.


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