Only One-Third of India's Total Internet Users are Female: UNICEF Report

“Given that there is such a strong push for digitisation in India, it is important to see who is being left.”

New Delhi: Internet in India remains a male-dominated area, with females accounting for just a third of total internet users. The gender digital divide could have serious consequences for girls, warns the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

“The Internet in India is still a ‘male preserve’, with on average only a third of users being female,” says UNICEF’s latest report on the well-being of children in the digital space.

The report has said that girls in the country will continue to face isolation in the socio-cultural sphere if they do not get access to digital technology.

“There are potentially serious consequences for girls excluded from the digital age: continued isolation in countries and cultures where girls are restricted in their movement or activity online and offline because of their gender; inability to access online services and information on issues related to their health; inability to further their education; and no chance to further skills that could help them participate in the global economy of the 21st century,” warns the report titled ‘The State of the World’s Children 2017: Children in a digital world’ released globally on Monday.

Talking to The Wire after the launch of the report, Yasmin Ali, UNICEF India representative, said “Given that there is such a strong push for digitisation in India, it is important to see who is being left.”

The report has also drawn the attention of policymakers to the threat that exposure to the digital world poses for children. Globally, every third internet user is a child.

As much as 71% of children use the internet , far higher than the 48% average for the overall population, but not much is being done to protect them from the threats that digital exposure pose to them.

“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 and to increase their access to safe online content,” says the report.

Ali talked about the risks of children getting exposed to child pornography content available online. She said, “This is a global threat and governments need to collaborate on it; it requires professionals to work on it; it requires big giants such as Facebook and Google to be aware of what challenges children face within their own spheres.

This is UNICEF’s first comprehensive look at the different ways digital technology is affecting children’s lives and life chances, identifying dangers as well as opportunities. It argues that governments and the private sector have not kept up with the pace of change, exposing children to new risks and harms and leaving millions of the most disadvantaged children behind.

“For better and for worse, digital technology is now an irreversible fact of our lives,” said UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake, adding, “In a digital world, our dual challenge is how to mitigate the harms while maximising the benefits of the internet for every child.”

The report explores the benefits digital technology can offer the most disadvantaged children, including those growing up in poverty or affected by humanitarian emergencies. These include increasing their access to information, building skills for the digital workplace and giving them a platform to connect and communicate their views.

But the report shows that millions of children are missing out. About a third of the world’s youth – or 346 million young people – do not have access to the internet, which exacerbates inequities and reduces children’s ability to participate in an increasingly digital economy.

The report also examines how the internet increases children’s vulnerability to risks and harms, including misuse of their private information, access to harmful content and cyberbullying. The ubiquitous presence of mobile devices, the report notes, has made online access for many children less supervised – and potentially more dangerous.

And digital networks like the Dark Web and crypto-currencies are enabling the worst forms of exploitation and abuse, including trafficking and ‘made to order’ online child sexual abuse, says the report.

The report presents current data and analysis about children’s internet usage and the impact of digital technology on children’s wellbeing, exploring growing debates about digital “addiction” and the possible effect of screen time on brain development.