Cyber-Safety a key issue for Samoa and Tonga
The laid-back tropical Pacific islands are becoming like everywhere else in the world with young people constantly in tune with their technological gadgets. Once a place where internet access was very limited or not at all accessible, the Pacific has several service providers with reach from white sandy beaches and lush green mountaintops to fast developing urban settlements.
Information and communication technologies (ICT) including the Internet and mobile phones have brought benefits to millions of children, but at the same time ICTs can put children and young people at risk of violence, exploitation and abuse. If we are not trained to equip ourselves with the right tools in communities, our children could be victims of cyber bullying or other related harmful issues.
Some people call these cyberbullies; parasites or stalkers either using their real names or having fake profiles on any social media network.
“Keyboard warriors” is how a Polynesian girl in a Facebook group forum described these cyberbullies, who through their relentless tormenting and teasing made her best friend commit suicide. These are some of the realities we face when we log onto the internet.
As a step forward to battle cyber-bullying in the Pacific, UNICEF is working with the Government of Samoa and Tonga to keep children in Pacific countries safe from cyber related harassment.
While launching the Cyber Security Strategy plan 2016–2021, Minister of Communication and Information Technology, Honorable Rico Tupa’i said “Cyber-attacks can negatively impact the prosperity of Samoa’s economy, and prove to be a hindrance to the success of its private sector. It is a concrete move towards a safer Samoa with an initiative to ensure personal information, privacy and security is safely guarded as a top priority for the Government.”
UNICEF is in discussion with the Police and the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development in Samoa to develop standard operating procedures for children in conflict with the law which includes cyber safety measures.
In the neighboring Pacific Island Country of Tonga, UNICEF supported a workshop initiated by the government and held outreach activities in schools on cyber-bullying in 2014. As a result, the Government of Tonga established a Cyber Committee with membership from the church, youth, and private sector.
Last year, UNICEF supported a technical consultation which led to the Government of Tonga endorsing a week in October solely to promote cyber safety. The government launched a website (http://stopthinkconnect.gov.to) as part of the Stop, Think and Connect initiative to address the problems of computer and internet misuse. The new website contains information to help educate people about the benefits of internet usage as well as the dangers of cyber space.
At the launch, UNICEF Pacific Representative Mr. Sheldon Yett commended the Government, faith based organizations and civil society partners in Tonga for their “Combined efforts in putting Tonga at the forefront of its commitment towards nurturing a safe environment for children both online and offline.”
He said “Partnerships likes these continue to raise awareness and engagement around cyber safety with a specific focus on the protection of children. With rapidly growing connectivity, we have a responsibility to ensure that our children understand the role of the internet and social media and respecting one another as good digital citizens.”
“Cyber bullying is becoming more and more common in the Pacific. We are concerned about how children without parental supervision are exposed to harmful comments or indecent content available on the internet,” said Mr Yett.
“We encourage more governments in the Pacific to look at cyber safety issues especially for children and young people,” he said.
By Donna Hoerder / William Walker, UNICEF Pacific