The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) on Tuesday launched new Guidelines on Child Online Protection, considering that children are at increased risk of harm online during COVID-19 pandemic.

“The question of how to ensure children’s online safety in the age of COVID-19 is now more pressing than ever before,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao.

“ITU’s new Guidelines on Child Online Protection are a very timely tool to safeguard the well-being, integrity, and safety of our children, our most precious gift.”

As children are easy targets for cybercriminals and are exposed to a range of harmful content, contact, and conduct online, the ITU has released its comprehensive set of recommendations for children, parents, educators, the industry, and policymakers.

“Many children are coming online at a much younger age than their parents may have originally planned because of COVID-19,” said Monica Monika Gehner, the ITU’s head of corporate communications, during a webinar.

The ITU said it offers guidance on how to contribute to the development of a safe and empowering online environment for children and young people.

The internet and related digital technologies have opened new ways for children to communicate, learn, and play, enjoy music, and engage in a vast array of cultural, educational, and skill-enhancing activities, it added.

“The sad truth is that children all over the world have become victims of sexual exploitation, abuse, cyberbullying, radicalization, hate speech, and recruitment for illegal activities,” said Najat Maalla M’jid, the UN special representative on Violence Against Children, at a news webinar.

She said many of the risks for children are increasing, as is the case with sexual exploitation and abuse.

“In 2019, nearly 70-million child sexual abuse images and videos were reported to the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children,” said M’jid, adding: “That represents an increase of more than 50% on the previous year.”

She said other issues that need tackling include the live streaming of “abuse online, extortion and grooming.”

“We know that offenders and criminal networks are constantly updating some records and adapting to new realities, which has already happened during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

It is a global problem, and there has been a “worrying increase in online activities by those seeking child abuse material” reported, said M’jid.

“As a result of schools being closed, children are spending more time online than usual,” the UN special representative also noted.

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