The rapid expansion of broadband is transforming our lives, and the young digital users today are most prone to experiencing this transformation in all its subtleties. The level of exposure of the new generation of digital users online to both the good and the bad is something we, as Policymakers, Regulators, Technology Providers, and Operators, need to realize first ourselves, and then muster up our collective wisdom to work together towards protecting our most important asset: Our children. On our part, we believe this step can no longer be limited to academic discussions. If not addressed now, SDG 16.2, which has set forth the mission of ending abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence and torture against children by the year 2030, will not be fulfilled. We need to act now.
There is no question over the positivity that digital communications has had over the years and the promise it holds as we speedily transition into the world of intelligent and ubiquitous connectivity. As an integrated digital communications services provider, Zain Group, has based an essential part of its digital strategy on the notion of utilizing mobile digital communications technologies to connect its users, including children, to a world that requires new types of skills to survive and thrive, while making the most of a host of new opportunities that now abound.
As a priority, Zain Group has done and is continuing to expand internet access and adoption of digital services and technologies to help prevent a new class of divides, which may emerge and prevent children from reaching their natural potential, should access not be extended to everyone. Also, Zain is aware how children with online access may also be adversely exploited in unthinkable ways, by those predators wishing to infringe upon the rights of our children. While such divides can mainly be attributed to poverty, racial or ethnic discrimination, gender biases, disabilities, geographic isolation due to war and territorial conflicts, or even due to our own lack of prompt action in safeguarding society’s best interests, protection of children online is a fundamental necessity that has to be met, especially in view of grand goals defined in the global sustainable development agenda.
Recognizing that our efforts to protect all children first also need to be targeted particularly at protecting vulnerable and disadvantaged children, who may be less likely to understand online risks – including loss of privacy – and more likely to suffer or be exposed to physical and psychological harms, we embrace the ITU’s Child Online Protection (COP) initiative, which is a readily available blueprint for all of us and covers all aspects of the child-protection issue. We believe strongly that decision-makers, both from the private and public domains, need to become involved in in both letter and spirit of this program.
Several modes of engagement among decision-maker exist to help protect children, and most cannot be achieved without developing and enabling partnerships with the shared vision of keeping children safe and, in parallel, empowering them for the digital world. Such partnerships need to be wide-ranging among Mobile Operators and Regulators, for example, and may include direct funding from partners and issue-specific expert networks such as UNICEF, the Childhood Foundation, We Protect and others, with a commitment to developing tools and means, which may include but are not limited to Mobile Operator-run special helplines for children.
Such helplines should be part of a comprehensive approach tied into other programs in parallel to support both children and their parents through some of the issues they face in today’s digitally complex society. Another mode of cooperative engagement to address the child-protection issue, is to raise specific child-rights issues in each of the markets where a multi-network Operator such as Zain Group operates. These may include awareness campaigns against child labor or child trafficking or other known issues that catalyze exploitation of or violence against children. Based on such issue-specific campaigns, the concerned Operator can take up the relevant issues with concerned regional and global bodies active on those fronts and can spearhead the implementation of expert recommendations into tangible action items. Another practical approach to limit children from adverse exposure online, is to work with private ,civil society, subject matter experts and semi-private entities as partners, to create more locally developed and locally-relevant content, especially for children who speak minority languages, live in remote areas or belong to marginalized ethnic groups, so that relevant information makes its way to their developing minds.
In deploying any combination of these options, Operators should proactively assess and analyze children’s online habits using data analytics tools. At an intrinsic organizational level, blocking child abuse content on the network, remains a first line of defense. This approach when combined with intra-organizational detection of child-abuse content and internal policy-making with business partners and law enforcement agencies can also help detect and contain the spread of offensive materials.
Zain is taking demonstratable steps to prevent its networks and services from being used by offenders to collect and distribute child sexual abuse images or commit other violations against children. We strongly believe digital technologies offer significant opportunities to address child abuse in its many forms, and to empower children, enabling them to make their voices heard by sharing their opinions and experiences; or to access tools that reduce their vulnerability to abuse.
Holistically, Operators need to unify their stance on the need to ensure a safe online environment for children and to block the proliferation of child-abuse content over the Internet. The industry as a whole needs to enunciate its shared commitment toward ensuring that digital technologies only serve to fulfill the public good. Protecting children from being victims of abuse or exposed to abuse online, is an integral part of the public good — to which we all must affirm and commit our support.
Zain Group’s Support to the Cause
Is a signatory of the GSMA’s Mobile Alliance aimed at combating online child sexual abuse content. In 2017, Zain Group released a thought-leadership on the issue of protecting children’s rights highlighting how to leverage digital technologies to address the vulnerabilities that children face and how technology companies can help tackle the issue. A study undertaken by Zain in 2017 entitled “Leveraging Technology to Protect the Rights of Children” has shed light on the importance the role ICT plays when it comes to Child Abuse. Earlier in 2015, Zain established a partnership with Child Helpline International with the purpose of providing representation for Child Helpline International in markets where the organization was not present. Zain’s partnership with Child Helpline International was part of a comprehensive program to protect the rights of children and educate the public about the vulnerabilities faced by young people online today. In Saudi Arabia, Zain established a partnership to support Saudi Arabia Child Helpline which is a member of Child Helpline International, by providing free-of-charge calls for both the children calling and the child helpline receiving the calls. In Jordan, Zain announced its plan to provide technical support to Child Helpline 110, an entity run by the Jordan Foundation that is also a member of Child Helpline International. Zain also provides technical support as needed and will upgrade the helpline’s telephone system into Primary Data Interface (PDI). In Kuwait, Zain took a major step forward by creating a toll-free line 147 in partnership with Child Helpline International and the Ministry of Communication. By the close inter- organizational cooperation between Zain Kuwait, Child Helpline International and the related government agencies, the company was able to pave the way to achieving meaningful policy reforms. In 2015, Zain also released subject specific videos in its Youtube channel highlighting the impact of child abuse.