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Urgent Call for Equal Digital Citizenship and Cyber Security for Girls in Asia

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Joint News Release 
Bangkok, 11 October 2020 -

Six of the world’s largest child-focused international development sector organisations comprised of World Vision International, ChildFund Alliance, Plan International, Save the Children International, SOS Children’s Villages International and Terre des Hommes International Federation, launched an urgent call for action to governments and regional intergovernmental organisations to provide girls in Asia with equal access to the internet and protection from online abuse and exploitation.

Coming together under the banner of Joining Forces Alliance, a network dedicated to child rights and protection through strong multi-sectoral cooperation in Asia, the appeal was made in a joint statement today, on International Day of the Girl Child.

Background

Significant research and studies have disclosed the devastating socio-economic impact of COVID-19 in Asia Pacific. In particular, the loss of livelihood has forced parents and caregivers to take desperate actions that negatively impact the well-being of Asia’s vulnerable children. The pandemic also exposed the existing sharp gender digital divide in South Asia. Women and girls are 26% less likely to own a mobile phone than men and boys; they also particularly vulnerable and suffer the brunt of rising online exploitation and abuse, amidst heightened reports of physical or psychological abuse of children during COVID-19.

Kathrine Yee, Regional Advocacy Director, Asia-Pacific, World Vision International explained, "The horrific impact of COVID-19 is putting children, especially girls, at-risk on many fronts such as child labour, child marriage and online exploitation. As part of our socio-economic recovery process from this pandemic, it is imperative, that we accord girls with fair and equal access to digital opportunities while ensuring that the necessary safeguards are in place to protect them from sexual and online abuse.”

The worrying dangers posed to children and girls are exacerbated by worldwide school closures that have affected more than 1.5 billion students. More than half of them are girls in Asia-Pacific. Due to their limited access to technology and digital tools, compared to boys and men, females are facing serious barriers to education, employment, civic participation and social interaction. The lack of focus on this important population group has put them at risk, especially without the attendant online safety measures to protect them from predators and organised criminal groups that operate in the digital environment.

“We receive posts and videos on Facebook that are not age appropriate, such as, ‘want financial support?’. I think this is like prostitution,” disclosed 16-year-old Altanchimeg, a Mongolian girl participant of World Vision’s children and youth consultation on the impact of COVID-19

Recommendations

The Joining Forces Alliance calls on national governments, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), Association of social media companies, Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and other stakeholders to prioritise the safety of girls and women while providing them with much needed digital access. Protection mechanisms such as help desks for children, especially girls and women who experience violence, reporting protocols, referral pathways and gender-responsive services must be established and strengthened.

“Online Sexual Exploitation of girls increases exponentially every year. Governments in Asia need to sharpen their legal tools and engage in comprehensive awareness campaigns to protect their girls from this rampant abuse which often is taking place in their own home”, says ChildFund International Regional Director Roland Angerer.

“We must all campaign for change, asking governments and technology companies to put protection first. Girls and young women are sick of being harassed and driven away from the opportunities the internet provides.” Bhagyashri Dengle, Director for Asia Pacific Region, Plan International.

Note to the editor:

The joint statement was shared to SAARC and ASEAN on October 11, declared by the United Nations General Assembly, as the International Day of the Girl Child, to recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world. The year 2020 marks the 25th year since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, an agenda adopted in 1995 aimed to advancing the rights and empowerment of women and girls.

For further information please contact:
Kathrine Rose Yee-Pornela
Regional Advocacy Director, Asia-Pacific, World Vision International
kathrine_yee@wvi.org