Separate sensationalism from harm: Child online safety


Most people are excited about the digital transformation expedited by the COVID-19 pandemic, and without doubt the situation did highlight the numerous opportunities there are in digital.  Can we achieve much more from technologies if we can at the same time pay attention to the risks which come with them? Despite the many benefits, from reports available there has been evidence of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning perpetuating bias in society – and reported cases of predictive policing. Then we could also talk about potential privacy violations related to Big Data solutions, of which COVID experiences can pass for obvious examples.

The recent Global Risk Report 2021 listed a host of technology-related risks which can be mitigated provided there can be plans and investments toward cybersecurity; and in this regard, investment into digital skills for children. While building their skills and holding discussions about their online lives could be helpful in Internet Governance discourse, these discussions should be brought down to the level of children; and this will prepare them enough to even offer options for addressing any online harm they might have experienced.

Countries need to pay serious attention to the device security and digital resilience of the African child. Children are critical members of society and face cyber-risks peculiar to them. Giving children the appropriate tools they need can help contribute to strengthening overall societal cyber-resilience.

Due to the complexities involved in child protection and looking at it from the different stakeholders to be engaged in order to ensure a comprehensive system is attained, it would be worthwhile to approach online safety discussion and training in a manner that takes cognisance of systemic and whole society dynamics.

In order to approach Child Online Safety in a whole community manner, certain skills and competencies are required.

Below are some examples of skills and competencies required to attain a Holistic Digital Citizenship.

Skills Competencies
Digital Safety Be able to detect and manage digital dangers with resilience.
Digital Use Be able to balance realities, both online and offline, with self-control.
Digital Rights Be able to safeguard one’s rights, and with respect.
Digital Identity A child’s ability to manage their online identity and integrity.
Digital Security Exhibiting some level of smartness online.
Digital Emotional Intelligence Being able to exhibit your power and control emotionally online.
Digital Communication Communicating with others in an ethical manner.
Digital Literacy Being able to effectively use media with critical thinking and creativity.


The pandemic has been an excellent example to all of us as to how as a society we require more resilient structures to mitigate some of these risks and threats.

In order to achieve a safer Internet, all actors within the cybersecurity ecosystem should aim at a systemthat recognises children as consumers in order to involve them in framing cyber-resilience interventions for the whole of society (Safety by Design).

Governments should adopt multi-dimensional frameworks of cyber-risks beyond just the technical, by integrating the human-centric perspectives such as cultural and social aspects of cybersecurity.

Stakeholders could be attacking vectors without knowing, therefore it is critical to prioritise the various capacity needs of these groups – not just within national strategies but broadly, so that there are clear modalities and areas of engagement for them.

Lastly, the idea of participation should not be in a nominal sense but rather from an informed position; and this goes for the different stakeholders whose engagements go to shape the whole ecosystem.

The Writer is the Executive Director at Child Online Africa.

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