Internet usage in India is still a “male preserve”, with only 29 per cent of online users being females, thus underlining a “digital gender gap”, says a study by the United Nations. According to the report titled ‘State of the World’s Children 2017: Children in a digital world’ unveiled by the UNICEF today, girls in rural areas often face restrictions while using the Information and Communications Technology (ICTs), solely because of their gender. “Globally, 12 per cent more men than women used the Internet in 2017. In India, less than one third of Internet users are females,” the study said. “There are potentially serious consequences for girls excluded from the digital age,” it noted. The digital gender gap also leads to the inability to access online services and information on issues related to women health or further their education and skills that could help them participate in the global economy of the 21st century. “Girls and boys in India have the unique opportunity to benefit from the connectivity that the digital world can provide. India is famous as an IT hub and no matter where they live, every girl or boy should have digital advantage,” said UNICEF representative in India, Yasmin Ali Haque, at the launch of the report here.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is working with the Centre in developing a comprehensive plan on digital safety for children. “The Internet and social media provide incredible opportunities for children to learn, participate and socialise but it also brings significant risks of online abuse and violence. Digital literacy is, therefore, key to ensure that all girls and boys stay informed, engaged and safe online,” Haque said. UNICEF, in the annual flagship report, stated that despite children’s massive online presence – 1 in 3 internet users worldwide is a child – too little is done to protect them from the perils of the digital world.
The report also presents UNICEF’s first comprehensive look at different ways the digital technology is affecting children’s lives and life chances, identifying dangers as well as opportunities.
It argues that governments and private sector have not kept up with the pace of change, exposing children to new risks and harms and leaving the most disadvantaged group behind. “For better and for worse, digital technology is now an irreversible fact of our lives,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “In a digital world, our dual challenge is how to mitigate the harms while maximising the benefits of Internet for every child,” he said. The report also examines how the Internet is responsible for increasing children’s vulnerability to risks and harms, including misuse of their private information, access to harmful content and cyber bullying.