Child Online Protection in Latin America

August 19, 2015

Mobile devices enrich the lives of children and young people. But as the use of mobile phones by children continues to grow, MNOs are working to ensure that their mobile experiences are positive, beneficial and above all, safe. The GSMA is committed to leading the debate between industry, public sector and civil society, launching initiatives throughout the entire industry designed to protect children’s rights online. We are focused on developing self-regulatory initiatives that create a safe environment for children’s use of mobile services, generating a constructive dialogue between governments, childhood experts, NGO’s, academics, parents and educators. It is essential that children take full advantage of all the benefits and opportunities that mobile technology offers.

niños 3Therefore, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the GSMA are working together to promote guidelines for child online protection in Latin America and the Caribbean. As part of this collaboration, the GSMA promotes new Guidelines for Industry on Child Online Protection between MNOs in the region. Moreover, it is working closely with UNICEF to identify ways in which MNOs in Latin America can promote children’s rights and responsible digital citizenship.

The new Guidelines for Industry on Child Online Protection were developed by UNICEF and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to address advances in the use of technology.

The preparation of these guidelines was undertaken in consultation with members of civil society, business, academia, governments, international organizations and young people. The guidelines establish a foundation for a safer and more secure use of Internet-based services by Latin American children and were designed to be relevant to a broad range of companies that develop, provide or make use of communication networks and Internet technologies in the delivery of their products and services.

The new guidelines recommend companies in the ICT sector to work actively in five key areas:

  • Integrating and considering children’s rights into all relevant corporate policies and management processes
  • Developing standardized operational processes to handle child sexual abuse material
  • Creating a safer and age-appropriate online environment
  • Educating children, parents and teachers about children’s safety online
  • Promoting digital technology as a way to increase civic engagement

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MNOs play a key role in protecting children online, always working in collaboration with government, law enforcement, civil society and hotline organizations. For this reason, the GSMA and its members in Latin America are committed to leading the debate on how to protect young people online as well as taking proactive action in this area, to create a safe environment for children’s use of mobile services.

Working groups and training for the public sector and the mobile ecosystem

Through a series of workshops and webinars, the GSMA and UNICEF work closely with MNOs in Latin America to promote the application of these guidelines, proving practical support for its implementation on a country-by-country basis.


Seminars on Child Online Protection in Latin America

During 2014 and 2015, workshops were held in Paraguay, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina, with more being held shortly in El Salvador and Costa Rica. These meetings were attended by international experts from UNICEF and the GSMA, and from organizations such as the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC), the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), INHOPE and Interpol, among many others. In addition, the meetings counted with the presence of government agencies responsible for children and telecommunications issues from each country.

These events bring together representatives of the public sector, the mobile ecosystem and national NGOs, with the aim of creating a common agenda that seeks to defend the rights of Latin American children using mobile services and the Internet. In turn, and because of the involvement of international and regional experts, they work as platforms for the exchanging of good practices and the training of local actors.

The mobile generation and the industry’s response

ninños 23According to the report “Children’s use of mobile phones – an international comparison”, 65% of all children surveyed between the ages of 8 and 18 currently use a mobile phone; and 12 is the most common age for children to get their first mobile phone.

Despite the profound benefits of the Internet enjoyed by the “mobile generation”, children can face a number of risks when using information and communications technology, including exposure to age-inappropriate content, or to malicious or inappropriate contact. Children need to be empowered to navigate the Internet safely, and become confident and responsible digital citizens who understand, for example, the implications for their long-term ‘digital footprints’ of sharing personal photos, and publishing comments and information online.

UNICEF and the GSMA, with the support of Comedy Central, launched “Stand Up Mobile” campaign to raise awareness about the use of mobile devices by children and young adults and to promote a safer and more secure environment for them.

This initiative presents, through humorous monologues or ‘stand up comedy’ sketches, real-life situations that illustrate that while the use of mobile phones can be fun it can also expose children to a variety of risks. Three monologues will be presented on a weekly basis featuring several renowned comedians including Ricardo Quevedo (Colombia), Juan Barraza (Argentina) and Fabrizio Copano (Chile), who have all contributed to this joint venture alongside Comedy Central.

The mobile industry in Latin America is currently working on these issues proactively, starting different initiatives in each of the key areas covered by the UNICEF Guidelines. Among the actions taken by these companies, we find alliances with social organizations to create fundraising campaigns, promote helplines for children and young people, raise awareness campaigns against cyberbullying and facilitate systems to block and/or report online child sexual abuse. All this is done to encourage children’s participation in society through innovation and the positive use of mobile phones.

Moreover, within the framework of the GSMA’s “We care” campaign, Latin America MNOs are collaborating with organizations such as Child Helpline International (CHI) and public sector organizations dedicated to children, in social actions such as:

  • Brazil: Support and SMS promotion of SaferNet and Dial 100
  • Nicaragua: Support and SMS promotion of Line 133 (helpline) with the Nicaraguan Ministry of Family, Youth and Children (MIFAN).
  • El Salvador: Support and promotion of the “Alerta Angel Desaparecido” programme with the Attorney General’s Office
  • Costa Rica: Promotion of Line 1147 (helpline) with the National Board for Children (Patronato Nacional de la Infancia or PANI)
  • Mexico: Partnership with Internet Security Alliance (ASI) and the Citizens Advice Bureau in Mexico City

According to the umbrella organization Child Helpline International, more than 200,000 children and young people contacted helplines during 2012 and 2013 in the region. Most of the times, they called for assistance and help in cases of suspected abuse or violence. To fight against this issues, it is vital that the public and private sectors join efforts. “We hope the initiatives outlined help generate a greater access and response, providing children and young people with an accessible and trustworthy way of contacting these protective services when in need of help”, said Nenita La Rose, Executive Director of CHI.

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