Child online protection: A reflection on Dame Jonathan's call for action

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By Omoba Kenneth Aigbegbele
In line with the need to realize the objectives of International Telecommunication Union (ITU) child on-line protection initiative, the Champion, Dame Patience Jonathan, has called for concerted efforts between governments, stakeholders and private sectors, including the youth around the world. With the passionate clarion call for action at the recent ITU world 2013, at Bangkok, Thailand, the First Lady re-emphasized the importance of global efforts for a common global theme to drive home this initiative, which she argued was achievable, timely and specific.

And this was why having been inaugurated as a global ITU Child Online Protection Champion, she initiated the '1st National Youths Protection online Summit in Nigeria,' and the 'Cyber Security Summit' also at Abuja to galvanize the African continent on the new threats against the most vulnerable members of the society – the children and youths. Just of recent, at this year's HIV/AIDS programme in Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia, on January 31, 2014, the First Lady stressed that the Internet revolution, in spite of the advantages of boosting knowledge, communication and social interaction, has also thrown up the challenge of imparting unwholesome behaviours that are promoting crime, child abuse, child pornography, among others.

Driving home the message that the unwholesome activities on the Internet and lack of effective monitoring and control expose children and the youths to immoral behaviours that predispose them to the risk of Human Immuno-Deficiency Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS)

The First Lady opined that her new insight and vision into the dimension on HIV/ADIS pandemic was inspired by her activities as President of African First Ladies Peace Mission and as Global Champion of International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Child Online Protection. She said the Federal Government has reflected deeply on these new challenges and have initiated series of enlightenment and sensitization campaigns to save African continent's children and youths, and the world at large from Internet's potential in scaling up the dreaded HIV/AIDS, and in designing new strategies of combating these latent threats.

Meanwhile, as part of her declaration for the Safer Internet Day (SID) this year, February 11, 2014, she made a motherly appeal and a call for action as Child Online Protection Champion, by inviting all stakeholders to re-state their commitments to further build expertise, develop educational programmes and curricula, to address a safe and responsible use of the Internet, including the application of research works, presentations, and conferences that should be channeled to present day realities.

She enjoined ITU member states and sector members to promote international and domestic policies to improve child online safety and develop practical tools to help minimize risk to children and put in place measures that can address online safety with alerting mechanisms to tackle the growing threats to children. She also called for the balancing of privacy issues and policies related to freedom of speech with the implementation of measures that can address online safety by establishing policies and appropriate effective frameworks that protect the use of private data and intellectual property.

And as a passionate advocate of the well-being of women and children, she believes that the security of children and youths requires collective action for the security and prosperity of the children's collective future by creating an enabling and value added society where values and societal orientation will be taught from homes as most of these thematic messages are first passed from homes to children and youths.

These recently organized summits which included the 'National Youth Online Protection Summit' with the theme, 'The Internet, Emerging Threats and Solutions for the Youths,' which attracted over 2,000 youth leaders and followers from across the country, was very successful as it provided the youths a platform not only to interact among themselves, but also ICT experts, Google, Microsoft, among others, who were there at the summit and brought to light the need to always change passwords within months of any Internet platforms. This also brought to the fore, the interface of cultures by the youths as they engaged these platforms online. As much as Internet has advantages, it also has disadvantages, and parents should have a formidable and sustained relationship with their children so as to always guide them on the true essence and danger of the Internet.

Accordingly, Dame Patience spoke on the essence of the new threats, when she said it was a call to play a key role on the global stage for her, at the World ITU Summit in Bangkok, in the fight to protect children from harmful practices in the cyber space. “The security of our children and youths require us to think responsibly, proactively, so as to guide the children intelligently with our focus on the children's strategic place in our collective future,” she said. In line to realize the objectives, she revealed that she had constituted a committee of experts and stakeholders to work closely with her in designing strategies for the effective implementation of the COP Agenda, not only for the Nigerian youths but for the whole world's.

In addition, at the ITU Global Youths Summit in Costa Rica, where youths from across the world were engaged in series of workshops, presentations and conversations, Dame Jonathan used that platform to highlight her priorities and concerns on the crucial national and international debates and decisions. She recalled that she hosted the “World Cyber Security Conference” which was not only timely, but instructive, in view of the need to address government, corporate bodies, individuals and ICT experts on the cyber space security, and the need to “avail all the opportunity to network, share knowledge and most important, seek strategic partnership in our continued dedication and commitment to raising international awareness and advocacy for child online protection and cyber security.

She however, noted, she intends to create a viable and sustainable COP campaign through multi-dimensional perspective that will be specific, measurable, realistic and time-bound. It was her intention, to harness multi- stakeholders' collaborations to ensure that the ideals of COP remain on the front burner globally, especially with the proposed establishment of ITU Regional Cyber Security Centre in Nigeria.

While hopefully intensifying efforts to ensure that the Cyber Security Bill before the National Assembly in Nigeria is passed into law and she was also delighted to note that the bill is receiving tremendous support from the general public and has brought to the fore the dangers that the Internet portends for the future generation of Nigerian and the whole world's children.

According to her, the new bill will drive home the global advocacy as she invited industry players, policy makers to join her to evolve policies and programmes. “This will protect our children in cyber space,” she said, and called for “a renewed vision to build structures and develop strategies to shield our youths from influences with the potential of compromising their future. She therefore encouraged all people of goodwill around the world to see this as an important task that must be achieved so that together, we can effectively sanitize the Internet, for the safety and progress of our children and youths, including striving to purposefully re-direct the energies of the youth for the greater good of humanity and ethical online attributes.

She reiterated that government has a critical role to play in policy formulation in various political environments, towards ensuring that necessary legislations are put in place to promote cyber security and guarantee the young citizens' protection in a digital world.

Omoba Kenneth Aigbegbele is the Media Adviser to the First Lady of Nigeria.