A national representative survey “Online Experiences of Children in Bulgaria" conducted by the Bulgarian Safer Internet Centre was in focus at a conference organized by UNICEF Bulgaria and the State Agency for Child Protection (SACP) which took place on 14th of December 2017 in Sofia. Clara Sommarin, a child protection specialist on Exploitation and Violence at UNICEF Headquarters, presented the global report “The State of the World’s Children 2017: Children in a Digital World “ which includes data from the Bulgarian survey.
One of three children in Bulgaria has a public profile in a social network and one of five Bulgarian children has met with someone they met online. These are some of the alarming data from the survey of the Bulgarian Safer Internet Centre which is a Bulgarian member of the international research network “Global kids online”.
These and other data were presented through an artistic performance by Simona Valeva and Gencho Nikolov, members of the Bulgarian SIC’s Youth panel. Emanuil Georgiev, an expert from the Safer Internet Centre, presented recommendations based on the research data for prevention of the main risks on the internet with focus on child sexual abuse to the state institutions, the educational authorities and parents. He recommended early development of digital and media literacy to be integrated in the curricula (for as much as the average age when Bulgarian children enter the internet for the first time is 7), a special attention to be paid to children aged 12-14 as a main risk group (40% of them have public profiles in social media) and development of more peer training programmes (for as much as 36% of Bulgarian children ask their peers for help for internet related problems). Georgiev pointed out that the internet is a social environment and training of children should not be limited to the development of technical skills or only to lessons in IT school subject but a multidisciplinary approach is needed.
He recommended development of more parents support programmes (regarding that only 30% of Bulgarian parents help their children for internet related problems). It was also recommended parents to encourage children's learning and do online activities together with their children (which only 36% of Bulgarian parents do). The importance of fathers’ engagement was pointed out (for as much as only 23% of children ask their fathers for help) which should be promoted trough campaigns and supported by training programmes.
Georgiev also pointed out that it is important to not limit the children’s access to the internet, claiming that the proposed age of 16 for parental consent for children’s registration in social media, related to the forthcoming transposition of European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Bulgaria, only deepens the problem (for as much as now 73% of Bulgarian children aged 9-11 have their own accounts in social media). Children should be prepared how to prevent themselves from risks online, instead.
The Bulgarian SIC’s Cyberscout training programme supported by Telenor Bulgaria was given as an example for training on online safety for children. The programme was ranked among the best ten European projects by European Crime Prevention Network and was presented at a conference for best practices in Tallinn, Estonia on 14th of December. The Cyberscout training programme was also presented in Sofia by Ema Kicheva, head of “Communications and sustainability” for Telenor Bulgaria and Emanuil Georgiev. It was pointed out that the programme trains children to be peer trainers using modern interactive methods which give the trainees opportunities to participate actively in the training process. For three years of running, more than 500 students aged 11-12 were trained in this programme. The presenters also stressed that children continue to be active after the trainings and form Cyberscout squads which organize and provide activities to raise awareness to their peers for the risks in the internet and how to solve online problems. In this manner the awareness has reached other 5,000 children for three years.