Children have access to Internet, but are insufficiently informed how to protect themselves online

The children in the Republic of Moldova are aware of the new information technologies and have access to the Internet when they need. However, the digital knowledge and abilities of children remain limited. They are insufficiently informed about what they should do when they face an unpleasant situation online. The situation worsened further together with the COVID-19 pandemic and the shifting to online learning. Such conclusions were formulated in the launch of a project to pilot the Online Safe School Standards in six national schools. The project is launched by the International Center “La Strada” in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Research, with financial support from the Council of Europe.

In a news conference at IPN, Elena Botezatu, executive director of the Center “La Strada”, said a study carried out in March shows that each fifth child had an unpleasant experience online. The accessing of sexual content in an involuntary way and receiving of indecent proposals from unknowns or even discussions of a sexual character are among the most frequent unpleasant situations. All these experiences show how vulnerable the children are when they go through different abuses, primarily sexual ones. Children’s response reactions are different. The children often choose not to speak about their experiences and this shows that there is no safe environment for the children and that these are afraid of being blamed.

The Head of the Council of Europe Office in Moldova William Massolin noted that the number of cases of child sexual abuse the last three years increased, to almost 17 million in 2019. These cases include about 70 million pictures and videos. The figures in the Republic of Moldova are also alarming. For example, in 2020 the investigation bodies started about 40 criminal cases over child sexual abuse, an increase of 44% compared with 2019. “The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the situation. According to the most recent Europol report, child sexual abuse in the European Union expanded and became one of the major cyber security threats following lockdown measures imposed due to the pandemic,” stated William Massolin.

Angela Prisăcaru, senior consultant of the General Education Division of the Ministry of Education and Research, said that multiple activities related to online safety have been carried out in time. “Studies conducted in the recent past revealed a series of vulnerabilities that became the authorities’ concern. To ensure a comprehensive approach and to indicate all the players that are responsible and should intervene, we come up with these child safety standards online that will fill the gap of a normative document in an education institution. Not only subjects regarding the creation of an online safe environment in the education institution should be addressed. All the community members should be engaged in achieving this objective,” stated Angela Prisăcaru.

The new standards will integrate school policies, practices and procedures so that online safety becomes a transversal element of the education system, in accordance with the international policies on the protection of children’s rights, which were assumed by schools in the European countries. The implementation of these standards envisions a change in conscience, attitudes and approaches, in activities with students about online safety and in community perceptions of what is actually the education institution’s legal responsibility for protecting children from any form of violence and how this obligation is related to what is happening online.

When the pilot project to implement the Online Safe School Standards in the six schools is completed, the standards will be applied in all the education institutions.

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