Today is World Children’s Day – a day designated to children’s welfare. Celebrating child rights defines who we are and what we aspire to be as a global society. It is an opportunity to take stock on what we can do, both at an individual and organisational level, to build a better world for children and advocate and promote their rights.
The GSMA’s vision – and one that is shared by the mobile industry globally – is for a digital world where every young person has an equal opportunity to participate. That they can do so with confidence and awareness, knowing where to go for help if it’s needed.
But while the world is more connected than ever, with 93 per cent of the population covered by mobile broadband, significant usage gaps still exist – with up to 50 per cent of the population in some regions still not connected or actively using mobile broadband.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the importance of mobile access, and the availability of high-quality mobile networks. Lack of access is an economic, developmental and societal issue that disproportionately impacts young people. As UNICEF has highlighted, COVID-19 has resulted in a “child rights crisis”, a crisis that too many children will bear the cost of for the rest of their lives. The divide that exists between children who are online, educated and protected, and those who are not is stark.
As an industry we are committed to collaborating with governments and other stakeholders on addressing coverage and connectivity gaps. Whether they exist due to a lack of coverage or affordability, an absence of knowledge and skills, or fears over online safety and security, we need to be clear as to why many remain unconnected, and rapidly put in place needed measures.
Mobile is also a powerful tool – enabling more than 5 billion to access information and content that in many cases is outside our normal environment – so with that power comes responsibility. And while the mobile industry recognises the responsibility to help children and young people enable their rights through education and training – key to enhanced participation is the delivery of support structures and the creation of a safe digital environment. For example, the GSMA partners with UNICEF and Child Helpline International and encourages all our mobile members to support national helplines so that every child is only a phone call or a text message away from help. Also, our services promote mobile product guidelines that put children’s safety and privacy front and center
Last year we launched our mPowerYouth campaign to enable child rights through mobile. It is a collection of inspiring stories from mobile operators about their work supporting children’s rights, and part of that on-going work is to listen to children and young people and hear directly from them about their needs.
As part of World Children’s Day celebrations difficult questions must be asked: how can we further enable children’s rights, how can we be more imaginative and inclusive, and are we using all of the tools at our disposal to break down barriers and enhance participation? Much has been achieved, but much more is left to do. World Children’s Day offers an entry-point for actions that will build a better world for children, and the GSMA is committed to playing our part in making this a reality.