Over the last decade, the Pacific has seen a rapid expansion of mobile phone technology, largely thanks to the new Coral Sea Cable System linking Australia, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. Online safety is a particular concern in contexts like this, where internet users are not well versed in identifying online risks and protecting children from harm.
Online Safety in the Pacific, a report launched by Plan International Australia on 15 October 2020 in collaboration with ChildFund Australia and Western Sydney University, looks at the challenges and opportunities children’s technology use presents in the Solomon Islands, Kiribati and PNG.
The report found that the fear of online harm for girls is much higher than for boys in the Pacific, and a common response is for parents to block girls’ access to the internet altogether. Among the children surveyed for the report, 77% said the risk of accessing inappropriate content such as horror movies and pornography, was their greatest fear, followed by cyber-bullying (38%), while parents and carers identified a lack of control over what children were accessing as their greatest fear.
According to the report, parents and caregivers themselves do not have the knowledge and skills to apply online safety measures, so learning these skills is crucial for all members of the community.
These findings suggest a need for effective programs and strategies that can help children and parents to become informed and active global citizens in a digital world, while also being mindful of and skilled to deal with the risks. Rather than limiting girls’ access to the internet because of their perceived vulnerability, solutions need to focus on making the online space safer for everyone.
“The Pacific is home to some of the highest rates of sexual and physical violence against women and girls anywhere in the world and this is now being reflected in the online space. These fears are also limiting girls’ access to online opportunities.” Says Plan International Australia CEO Susanne Legena.
“As Australia invests in the Coral Sea Cable to promote greater internet connectivity it must also invest in combatting the growing risk of online child sexual exploitation, grooming and cyber-bullying in the Pacific. Now is the time to act, to invest in the protective frameworks and programs that will prevent children and young people from being harmed online.”
Going forward, this new research will inform ChildFund Australia and Plan International Australia’s child protection work across the region, and together, we’ll be delivering a two-year online safety project in the Solomon Islands. This new project will equip young people, their parents, and their community with the knowledge and skills to promote youth-led and gender-responsive approaches to online safety, so that everyone can safely enjoy all of the opportunities the internet has to offer.