RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s National Cybersecurity Authority and UNICEF have signed an initial agreement to cooperate on child protection in cyberspace, according to a statement.
Signed at the Global Cybersecurity Forum in Riyadh, the agreement recognizes the two parties as strategic partners in ensuring that children can take advantage of all the opportunities of cyberspace while mitigating and responding to risks and harm.
“UNICEF is delighted to partner with the National Cybersecurity Authority,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, director of the programme group at UNICEF.
“Our shared objective of ensuring that every child is protected from risks associated with digital technologies will help co-design and co-implement impactful contributions to a safer internet for children.”
In an exclusive interview with Arab News, a child protection specialist at UN Children’s Fund said that Saudi Arabia’s Family Affairs Council has been partnering with UNICEF’s Gulf area office to develop a national online child safety framework.
Afrooz Kaviani Johnson added that the framework aims to develop a coherent national strategy for ensuring that important role players play their part in keeping children safe online.
In its final phases of consultation and finalization, the framework constitutes a multisectoral, multi-year plan that’s been informed by consultations with children, young people, different ministries, and various policymakers.
“Hopefully soon we’ll see the validation of that framework and the high-level commitment and then implementation can start immediately,” she added.
Johnson noted that the fund is currently in discussions with the Saudi National Cyber Security Authority about a global initiative to improve children’s safety online.
“So that’s really drawing on the good practices that are already underway within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and looking at how we can provide support for other governments and other role players to ensure that children are kept safe.”
The UN specialist affirmed the importance of thinking about children when rethinking the global cyber order.
“Children constitute one in three internet users globally, and actually, it’s estimated that for children in the global north, about 80 percent of them will have a digital footprint before they’re two years old,” she said.
Speaking about the threats that children may encounter, she said that online child sexual abuse and exploitation are one of the greatest risks.
“UNICEF’s research in some parts of Asia and Africa revealed that up to 20 percent of children had an experience of online child sexual abuse in the past year,” Kaviani Johnson said.
The specialist noted that parents, caregivers, and community members are the important first line of protection around children.
That is why it is important that parents should be aware of what their children are doing online, and that they engage in open communication with their children.
“But if we really want to empower children to utilize the space in the best possible way, it’s important that we’re there and we’re able to help them navigate that space,” she said.
This would happen by being involved in the process.
Parents should be helping children to navigate the digital world, just as they teach children how to navigate other parts of the physical world, she explained.