The Ambassador of Sweden, H.E. Johanna Strömquist and UNICEF Representative, Dr. Rownak Khan visited the Safer Internet Centre, run by the International Forum of Solidarity (IFS)-EMMAUS, in Sarajevo, to observe firsthand the operating of the Centre, its Hotline for reporting and Helpline for counselling and to discuss progress made in the implementation of interventions aimed at ending violence against children, supported with funding by the Swedish Government.
UNICEF in partnership with IFS-EMMAUS and financial support from the Swedish Government, implements various interventions to support local authorities in preventing and responding to cases of violence against children, and to raise awareness of parents and children.
“We might think it is not happening in our societies. But sexual exploitation of children is a widespread problem and our societies are often not equipped to prevent the crimes or to help the children who are the victims to overcome the experience of the abuse. No exploited child should ever feel alone or ashamed, the full responsibility is always with the perpetrator. And sexual exploitation of children is always a crime, whether it takes place behind closed doors or on screens. This is why we support the work of UNICEF and the Safer Internet Center”, said Johanna Strömquist, Ambassador of Sweden to BiH”.
Among some of the innovative tools to raise awareness among children have been the production of an animated cartoon movie, including its adaptation for children with hearing impairments, and the development of a mobile application for children – “Super Safe”, which will be published soon on the Apple and Google Play Stores.
“Utilization of the web application “Be a Cyber Detective!” confirmed that younger children, up to 11 years old, spend significant time using the Internet and even social networks. Therefore, the development of a dedicated web application adapted to this age of children is recommended. Also, since children spend most of their time in a digital environment using smartphones and computers, a significant impact on children could be accomplished by development and production of an animated cartoon movie “All You Need to Know About Violence!” and its broadcasting”, said Amela Efendic, Head of Office at IFS-Emmaus.
While the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and implications for children’s exposure to violence remain largely unknown, there is mounting anecdotal evidence that the establishment of lockdowns and containment actions taken by governments have resulted in disruptions of child protection services by either forcing closures or requiring significant adjustments to the way services are delivered. In many cases, movement restrictions and social distancing mean that child welfare and social workers are no longer conducting in-person visits, whether at home or in an office, and much of this work is now being conducted remotely – either online or over the phone.
“The use of internet and online resources have disproportionately increased among children and young people during this pandemic. This calls for an urgent need for designing appropriate guidelines, awareness campaigns and support system to make online environment safer for children, adolescents and youth in BiH. It is of utmost importance that governments prioritize maintaining or adapting critical prevention and response services to protect children from violence. This includes designating social service workers as essential and ensuring they are protected, strengthening child helplines, and making positive parenting resources available. In particular, governments must provide additional resources to child helplines so they can operate effectively in the context of pandemics and other crises, including by enhancing training on child-friendly counselling and adapting referral mechanisms.”, said Dr. Rownak Khan.