The two faces of the Internet
On the positive side, digital technologies provide children with access to information, resources, and opportunities for education, communication, and self-expression. On the negative side, they expose young users to potential risks such as cyberbullying, online grooming, and inappropriate content, which can undermine their right to safety and privacy.
Children without adequate parental care often lack the necessary support networks and resources to ensure a good livelihood and protection. This reality is exacerbated in the digital scene, where the lack of appropriate adult support and guidance hinders their ability to develop healthy online habits and behaviors. It also leads to experience greater difficulties in distinguishing safe and trustworthy online resources, making them more vulnerable to misinformation and related risks.
In order to avoid those risks, it is necessary to adopt a rights-based approach, which encompasses children’s rights to be protected and their right to use the internet freely, enabled by adequate digital literacy skills and informed consent.
SOS Children’s Villages response to the benefits and threats of the digital environment
The integration of digital technology via ICT4D (Information and Communication Technologies for Development) constitutes a crosscutting component in all our interventions. It aims to empower children, young people and their communities from our target group through meaningful access to technology. Our strategy is twofold:
- We aim to bridge the digital divide by ensuring meaningful access to the Internet for the children and surrounding communities that we support worldwide. As part of the Digital Villages programme, we provide quality digital infrastructure in our programme locations and equip programme participants with adequate digital skills (including awareness on cyber safeguarding and online security).
- We work together with the children and young people in order to develop innovative digital solutions that will enhance their rights so that they can thrive and become their strongest selves. We develop impactful “glocal” projects (developed at a global scale for bigger scalability, but locally owned) such as a digital platform to streamline all youth services, including youth participation; and a chatbot, which offers guidance on important matters to young people and their caregivers.
Digital Villages: Ensuring meaningful access and use of digital tools
Digital Villages is a global programme aiming to equip children, young people and their families with access to digital technologies, digital skills and, specially, cyber safeguarding knowledge so they are able to engage with technology in a safe and meaningfully way. Currently reaching over 40,000 people (25,000 children, 10,000 young people and around 5,000 child and youth care practitioners) in over 60 countries, this programme has been a game changer for its participants by, for instance, ensuring that they could continue their studies when schools were closed during the pandemic.
Example: Digital Villages in Benin
4,100 children and youth received access to digital technologies, digital skills courses and cyber safeguarding to navigate the internet safely via the e-learning platform (https://elearning.etudiant.bj/). Launched in the context of the Covid-19 health crisis, it displays more than 35,000 course videos and at least 2,500 other online teaching materials.
Promoting the safe use of technologies for children and young people in Latin America
In order to accompany children, young people and child and youth care practitioners in the safe, responsible and creative use of technology, SOS Children’s Villages in Latin America have developed creative digital learning initiatives.
Young people can be safe, smart, creative and responsible online. Having young people from SOS programmes in Latin America as main actors, KomiK SOS micro learning uses the art of comic as an educational resource that promotes young people’s participation in all phases of the creation process. (Watch Trailer 1 and Trailer 2!) These are their characters and their stories! This methodology allows working with them to help and develop healthy habits in the use of technology, so they can practice their digital rights safely. To date, 179 young people participated in events from 16 countries.
Online capacity buildings for staff to support children and young people staying safe online
An e-learning course on “Use of Technologies In Safe And Protective Environments“ was developed for co-workers, child and youth care professionals and external collaborators. This course helps them identify and act against possible risks that children and young people may face in the digital world. It also invites them to reflect on how to safely integrate technology in their lives and how to leverage digital tools for effective and positive accompaniment of the children and young people that they support.
“The experience I had was very useful for me, since there are many girls, boys, young people, and adolescents who begin to use their cell phones, tablets, and computers, and without knowing the risks they may face, they just use them and that's it. Then, it would be good to make the risks known to them according to their environment and monitor the use they give from their first device that they can acquire and not leave them to take risks.”
Desideria Lopez Turpo – Caregiver (SOS Bolivia)
Other ICT4D projects
Rafiki: Empowering women in child-care and child protection matters
Rafiki is a chat-bot, which offers 24/7 hours support to child, and youth care practitioners caring for children and young people with non-adequate parental care. Through the chat-bot child and youth care practitioners access information related to child protection, abusive behaviors, child and youth care, among others, and can have their questions solved any time.
YouthCan! and YouthLinks: A secure platform to boost employability with the use of digital tools
YouthCan! is SOS Children’s Villages response to youth unemployment, strengthening skills of young people in our target group and supporting their transition to economic independence.
Through the YouthLinks platform, young people are able to access online trainings and connect with mentors, establishing the social networks and career exposure they need to safely and successfully join the job market.
YouthSpeaks is a safe space built into the YouthLinks Community macro-platform where youth participation opportunities can be promoted transparently and inclusively. Following a rights-based approach, we worked together with young people to leverage digital technology with the aim of protecting and enhancing their right to have a say in all matters than concern them.