With the increasing rate of cyberthreat against children and the need for child online protection, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has released the final report of its study on young children use of digital technology, with its attendant gains and threats.
In the report released last week, the NCC notes that the survey titled, “Final Report: Study On Young Children And Digital Technology: A Survey Across Nigeria” is designed to examine the current issues of young people and digital technology consistent with the Child Online Protection Policy of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
It defined digital technology in broad terms, to refers to “electronic tools, systems, processes, devices and resources that generate and store or process data to achieve a particular set of user-defined objectives. Well known examples include computers, television, radio, social media, online games, multimedia, mobile phones and so forth.”
It further notes that while digital technology brings communication, education, shopping, entertainment, news, games, fun and much more to everyone, including children, the risks and opportunities of digital technologies are not the same for all children. It points out that large gaps exist in access, skills and use, which can affect both online and offline outcomes for children. In general, children who are vulnerable offline tend to be disadvantaged in online spaces as well.
This study is designed to provide an accurate depiction of how children consume digital technology in Nigeria, also explores the children’s device ownership, usage and benefits as it relates with their awareness of the risks and challenges.
“Technology provides children instantaneous access to huge quantities of beneficial materials and offers them a participatory pathway to involvement in society. Digital technology, especially the Internet, is also a vector for cyber-criminals to dispense harm, annoyance and other wrongdoings. Nowadays, children go online more often, for longer periods, at younger ages with diverse devices and for different purposes. The ways in which the Nigerian child seeks out information, socialises, plays and learns have been altered by the rise and use of new technologies.
The report states that the proliferation of digital technologies is accompanied by increasing concern about children’s exposure to associated risks and threats. “Exposure to risks turns out to be a general side effect of today’s children growing up in a digital world. This calls for a pragmatic approach to mitigate the desire to avoid risks and the necessity to access beneficial materials and to balance the immense benefits of digital technology with the safety of the children.”
Some of the key findings of the survey included that digital technology particularly the Internet has become an integral part of Nigerian children’s lives. This is especially true for those children who use it more broadly for social networking, uploading photos, doing homework, playing digital games or watching videos. The report believes that motivations for using the Internet vary mainly by the children’s age, location, devices and frequency with which they access it.
The report concluded that technology can create great benefits for children in numerous areas of their needs ranging from education to entertainment, shopping, health and many more. It is empowering in its ubiquity with children in rural areas and their counterparts in the urban areas collaborating, sharing information and new maintaining social connectivity.
“Technology can foster entrepreneurial thinking, helping children develop good citizenship norms when they engage in social activism through digital platforms. To unlock most of the best benefits from the digital world children should be equipped with a comprehensive set of digital citizenship skills to imbue them with critical reasoning for discernment while navigating the cybersphere.
Moreover, they also need to be able to evaluate and choose good digital services and products as conscious consumers and to become good users and creators of technology.
Highlighting the roles of stakeholders, the report notes that with the understanding of the cyber-risk pandemic facing children, the Government should consider implementing digital citizenship education as part of the national curriculum for primary and secondary schools as a first priority. “Empowering children with digital intelligence is only the start. Building a safe support network for children is crucial – from caring parents and capable teachers to supportive communities.”
Other ways of ensuring child online safety include developing ways to engage relevant local stakeholders in campaigns against harms such as child exploitation and other online children’s rights issues; use of new and innovative technologies such as AI, data analytics, and data motifs, to prevent networks and services from being used by offenders, and making measurable progress toward blocking upload of child sex abuse materials and other non-sexual child-abuse or child-harm materials in the services and products under their respective domains.
Stratified multi-stage sampling was the research design chosen for the study. The survey population was delineated into four strata with each stratum segmented into four clusters. This ensured that the survey selected samples in such a way that the target sub-groups were represented in the sample in the same proportion that they exist in the population. Secondary data were sourced through extensive desk review of literature focusing on tapping into the knowledge, experience and expertise of many organizations and individuals from across the world that are specialists in the field of child online protection. Extant pertinent Laws, Acts, Charters, Policies and Guidelines were comprehensively scrutinised to tease out gaps and ascertain adequacy.
Specifically, comprehensive digital citizenship education should teach children how to, among other things, discipline their usage of digital media and technology; understand the basic nature of online communication; develop cognitive critical reasoning about online information, contents and contacts; and develop a strong identity as responsible digital citizens.
Generally, the report recommends incorporating the rights of the child into national broadband strategy and all other relevant areas of national policy.
Cooperate across borders to create internationally valid standards and terminology for defining and measuring the state of children’s rights and protection online.
Ensure products and services designed for children by public or private sector has children’s rights at the heart of their operating principles.
Work with private-sector, civil society, subject matter experts and partners in developing online children’s rights standards.