Four ways telcos can protect and advance child rights in 2020

It goes without saying that we have come a very long way since the milestone Convention on Child Rights 30 years ago – but challenges remain. Below Elisabeth Biering, SVP of Sustainability, Telenor Group, shares some thoughts on four areas where telcos can continue to protect and promote Child Rights in 2020.

Written: Nov 2019

Reading Time: 4 minutes

1. Supporting a safer internet

What is the value of an internet where some of the most engaged users are not, and do not, feel safe? Rhetorical as that question might be, it is still one society is struggling to find a solution to. Cyberbullying, sexting, privacy settings, hate speech fake news, sharing of nude photos, child sexual abuse material online and stranger danger: the risk areas for children safe online are vast. As we’ve seen in many of Telenor’s Safe Internet initiatives globally, education is at the core of successfully building a safe internet.  Telenor’s outreach has already reached 3 million children. In Bangladesh alone our colleagues have given more than 850,000 children the tools critical to safe internet use. Similar campaigns are in-train in Myanmar, while Digi’s Yellow Heart is both upskilling youth in digital skills and giving critical insight into the underlying behaviours around cyber safety.

With the speed of technological advancement and the continuing explosion of new platforms, education cannot be a panacea on its own. In addition to its safe internet program and digital tool, Bruk Hue (‘Be Smart’) focusing on prevention, Telenor Norway has recently launched Nettslett, an add-on service for its customers. Provided in the shape of an  insurance add-on to youth-centred subscription packages Nettslett provides legal assistance for parents and guardians of youth experiencing abuse online. This sort of nuanced thinking around services could lead the way for increasingly innovative solutions in 2020 and beyond.

Statistics show that 500 million young people in Asia alone are expected to be online by the year 2021. Progress from collective efforts of the industry, governments and civil society in the coming years will determine the sort of internet experience they will have.

2. Promoting child-centric innovation

It would be perhaps naive to assume that progress made in technologically advanced countries continues at the same pace as their developing counterparts.  Just as everydays for citizens in certain countries have become increasingly seamless, there is still a frustration that the societal benefits of the digital era are yet to penetrate communities that need them most.

A prime example of this gap is digital identity. A staggering 1.1 billion people worldwide do not own an official identity, a situation that leaves the individual vulnerable to all manner of rights abuses. No identity means a lot of ‘no’. No political franchise, no access to health care and no access to the country’s education system. It opens up possibilities, too. Possibilities to be exploited through child marriage, child labour and even trafficking.

In providing 780,000 children with an official identity, Telenor’s Digital Birth Registration partnerships with UNICEF and local authorities in both Pakistan and Myanmar have been encouraging proof-points of the power of digital solutions to change lives at scale. Similar collaborations can continue that progress in 2020.

3. Breaking stereotypes for girls in tech

An interviewee in a recent survey commissioned by Telenor and Plan International noted how the word for scientists in Swedish is vetenskapsmän. Her point was that we should unsurprised by the survey’s other findings which show that 78% of survey respondents believe that girls and women considering a career in technology are faced with negative gender stereotypes. In short: we need more women in tech. If technology is to serve a diverse society equally, those developing it should themselves be reflective in their diversity. The gender gap becomes even more acutely concerning when we consider recent stories on the dangers of a gender-biased artificial intelligence.

Often touted as bastions of progressive gender politics, Scandinavian countries, the Telenor-Plan survey points out, have underperformed. As Plan International’s Nora Lindstrom noted in her review of the report, the tech industry will be integral to any substantive move to reduce the gender gap and contribute to an environment where young women (such as those currently enrolled in Telenor and Plan’s Girls Create Tech academy) can envisage an exciting and meaningful career at the cutting edge of the tech industry. As the report clearly states, we can’t afford to skip another generation, making 2020 a watershed year for girls and women in tech – in Scandinavia and around the world.

4. Curbing child labour in supply chains

As the name suggests, the supply chain represents the nuts and bolts of responsible business. Few modern companies could function without the support of key vendors and suppliers. Telenor alone counts more than 10,000 of such partners globally. And it is the global nature of modern business that has made the role of supply chain sustainability so critical. Operating across countries and cultures also means doing so in environments with varying degrees of protection for practices such as child labour.

While no one ever said that supply chain sustainability is easy (the ‘to-do’ list is long: risk-mitigation, capacity building, awareness building, monitoring, compliance, audits etc.) these standards should by no means be seen as burdening suppliers with excessive obligations. Adhering to these standards has the potential to positively impact businesses, giving them an advantage in increasingly competitive markets.

In some countries, slightly more than one in four children aged 5 to 17 are engaged in labour that is considered detrimental to their health and development. If we are to see this statistic improve in 2020 and beyond, we will need to continue to reframe supply chain requirements not as a barrier to business, but as a benefit.