ISLAMABAD: Pointing to dangers posed by online violence, cyber-bullying and digital harassment for people between the ages of 15 and 24 who are online in Pakistan, Unicef on Tuesday called for concerted action to tackle and prevent violence against children and young people.

The call came on Safer Internet Day following a recent Unicef poll of young people that received more than a million responses over five weeks from more than 160 countries, as well as a series of student-led ENDviolence Youth Talks around the world.

In it, young people provided responses about what they and their parents, teachers and policymakers could do to keep them safe, and kindness stood out as one of the most powerful means to prevent bullying and cyber-bullying.

“We have heard from children and young people from around the globe and taking their lead, Unicef is inviting everyone to be kind online and calling for greater action to make the internet a safer place for everyone,” said Unicef Pakistan representative Aida Girma in Pakistan.

According to data from Unesco on the prevalence of cyber-bullying in high-income countries, the proportion of children and adolescents who are affected by cyber-bullying range from 5 to 21pc, with girls appearing to be more likely to experience cyber-bullying than boys.

Cyber-bullying can cause profound harm as it can quickly reach a wide audience, and can remain accessible online indefinitely, virtually ‘following’ its victims online for life. Bullying and cyber-bullying feed into each other to form a continuum of damaging behaviour.

Victims of cyber-bullying are more likely to indulge in harmful practices and skip school than other students. They also are more likely to receive poor grades and experience low self-esteem and health problems. In extreme situations, cyber-bullying has led to suicide.

“30 years after the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the creation of the World Wide Web, it is time for governments, families, academia and, critically, the private sector to put children and young people at the centre of digital policies,” said Ms Girma. “By protecting them from the worst the internet has to offer and expanding access to its best, we can each help tip the balance for good.”

Meanwhile, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime says it was working with government, civil society and business through its ‘Global Cybercrime Programme’ and ‘Education for Justice’ initiative to build capacities and protect children.

That means advanced training and capacity building for effective law enforcement action in all countries, because cybercrime knows no borders. It also means broadening awareness and education among internet users.

Published in Dawn, February 6th, 2019