Growing up in a digital world: vulnerabilities of children in post-pandemic India

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The closure of schools during the Covid-19 pandemic has meant total reliance on online education for students to ensure that formal education remains as undisturbed as possible. At the same time, staying home for long periods of time meant that children were spending more and more time online, for socialization and entertainment. This has inevitably led to children being vulnerable to online abuse and bullying. Shruti Das, The Deputy Project Coordinator at the Center for Social Research (CSR), New Delhi, discusses these global issues and possible ways forward in the context of CSR’s work in India.

Recently, in a digital classroom organized by the Center for Social Research (CSR; an NGO in New Delhi), a 14-year-old girl from a major Delhi school shared her nightmare of having her email hacked. The hacker circulated sensitive images throughout the school during his online classes. Her example gave another 13-year-old girl the courage to share her experience of strangers sending her personal messages on Instagram, asking for her contact details and other personal information.

These are not isolated cases. According to media reports, in April 2020, the National Commission for Women (NCW) wrote to the Director General of the Gujarat Police Department after someone hacked into an online course run by a university and began to behave in such a manner. inappropriate on the screen. There have been many complaints from such students, teachers and parents in India about hackers and predators using digital platforms to spread derogatory media and messages.

The problem is not limited to online courses. Since children also spend their free time in front of screens, there have been cases of crooks trying to manipulate children through online gaming platforms. A 15-year-old boy from Hyderabad shared his experience of coming into contact with a con artist while playing a multiplayer online game. The scammer texted him on the platform and started sending personal and money-related unwanted messages and links. The child was so scared that he subsequently refrained from playing games altogether. There have also been several stories of children being harassed and scammed, such as that of a 13-year-old boy from Madhya Pradesh who hanged himself after losing Rs 40,000 in an online game.

Post-pandemic times have made it even more intimidating to leave digital devices in the hands of children without proper supervision and dialogue. Across India, several cases of cyber threats surfaced where children felt threatened as their safety and privacy was compromised. Female students are more prone to harassment and the non-consensual sharing of unwanted media content. Overall, reported cases of cyberbullying have increased during this period: in 2020 alone, cases of cyberbullying against women and children increased by 36% in India. In Delhi, in a survey of 630 adolescents conducted by Child Rights and You (CRY), 9.2% of respondents said they had been harassed online, half of them had not reported it to their guardians , teachers or social media platforms.

Children feel confused and lost in the current situation, which causes many to experience mood swings, anxiety and frustration. Adolescence is a time to understand each other, but the pandemic has made it more difficult for them as they now have to make sense of themselves and the world with restricted socio-physical interactions. Cumulatively, these factors have had an adverse effect on their mental well-being as well as their physical health. According to UNICEF, “at least one in seven children – or 332 million worldwide – has lived under national required or recommended stay-at-home policies for at least nine months since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, putting their mental health and well-being at risk.

Sarita Jadav, Director of UNESCO in India, speaking at a webinar in March 2021, highlighted how children are suffering school losses due to bullying and trolling online. She also said: ‘[The] The internet has magnified the risk of cyberbullying and discrimination online. According to a study, 62% of digital users did not know where to find help if they were cyberbullied. ‘ This makes it extremely important to talk to children beyond the school curriculum, especially in this time of Covid-19, about the digital technologies they are using. Educational institutions alone may not be able to handle such dialogues on digital security and cybersecurity habits; it is therefore important for them to collaborate with research organizations and NGOs to share and transmit best practices for this critical problem.

Recognizing these heightened vulnerabilities of children in today’s environment, CSR has organized in-depth workshops on topics covering positive online engagement, online threats and counter-narrative, the importance of consent, children’s mental health , fake news and disinformation, among others. The program enables students to make informed decisions and build their resilience. So far, CSR has trained over 30,000 students in the 12-18 age group in the past year alone. The project was implemented keeping in mind the current challenges of online education and learning, and the contributions of students, educators and parents.

However, the participation of all stakeholders is crucial to create a safe learning environment for children. To meet this need:

  • Teachers must learn to unlearn old pedagogy and old approaches. If this is the new standard then it must become a relearning point towards more creative digital teaching methods to ensure holistic development, digital security and student well-being, in order to make it better digital citizens. Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) methodology can enable teachers to become allies, rather than just traditional instructors, for their students.
  • Mental health is a key aspect of all the challenges and vulnerabilities facing young people, and it is high time we gave it the priority it deserves. Rather than avoiding conversations about emotions, we need to work on creating safe spaces for children where they can openly talk about their emotions and how the pandemic and the shift to online learning have affected. their mental well-being.
  • Educational institutions should organize training programs for students, teachers and parents that focus on internet security and tackling online threats.
  • School curricula should be revised to suit today’s times by including online safety and security guidelines.
  • The government (s) should allocate funds in the education budget for mental health professionals and implement SEL tools. They should also thoroughly review cybersecurity laws and policies and create hotlines and portals to facilitate reporting of cybercrimes.

Since the childhood experience is the most crucial foundation of our individuality, as well as our mental and emotional resilience, there is a need to work to mitigate the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on safety and health. children’s happiness in the “new normal”. .

This article originally appeared on the South Asia @ LSE blog and is republished with thanks. This article gives the author’s point of view, not the position of the Media @ LSE blog, the ‘South Asia @ LSE’ blog, the LSE South Asia Center, or the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Featured Image: Photo by jaikishan patel on Unsplash



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