WHO publishes guidelines for reducing online violence against children

World Health Organisation (WHO)

By Cecilia Ologunagba

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Friday published a report aimed at helping stakeholders worldwide end the growing scourge of online violence against children.

WHO, in the new report, “What works to prevent online violence against children,” focuses on ways of curbing the grooming of youngsters via the Internet, sexual image abuse, cyber aggression and harassment in the form of cyber-bullying, cyber-stalking, hacking and identity theft.

The report also showcases strategies and best practices to better protect children.

“Our children spend more and more time online and as such, it is our duty to make the online environment safe”, said Etienne Krug, Director of the WHO Department of Social Determinants of Health.

The report highlights the importance of implementing educational programmes directed at children and parents to prevent online violence.

Studies have shown their effectiveness in reducing levels of victimisation and curbing abuses and associated risk behaviours such as alcohol and drug abuse.

“This new document provides for the first time a clear direction for action by governments, donors and other development partners, showing that we must address online and offline violence together if we are to be effective,” Krug said.

The report recommends implementing school-based educational programmes, promoting interaction among youths, and engaging parents.

It also underscores the importance of training young people in assertiveness, empathy, problem-solving, emotion management and seeking help, among other skills.

WHO pointed out that educational programmes were more successful with multiple and varied delivery formats such as videos, games, posters, infographics and guided discussions.

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The report argues that comprehensive forms of sex education could reduce physical and sexual aggression – particularly in dating online, reducing partner violence, and tackling homophobic bullying.

The effectiveness of sex education has been confirmed in countries across the whole development spectrum.

Improvements must be made in several areas, according to the report.

Given the overlap of problems and solutions, it noted that more violence prevention programmes were needed to address the problem, together with offline violence prevention.

“As strangers are not the sole or even the predominant offenders online, less emphasis should be placed on stranger danger.

“Instead, more attention should be paid to acquaintances and peers, as they are responsible for a majority of offences.”

Given that looking for romance and intimacy online are major sources of vulnerability, the report spotlights the need to emphasise healthy relationship skills.

From fostering learning to developing personal and professional skills and expressing creativity, the internet offers a great deal to children and young people, the report stressed.

However, governments must find the right balance between developing digital opportunities and protecting users from harm.

The UN health agency is committed to contributing to a better understanding of all forms of violence against children and helping to guide the international response.

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