Home :: News & Events :: News :: Children in a Digital World: A UN Day Celebration - Event Coverage
14 November 2018
Children in a Digital World: A UN Day Celebration - Event Coverage

By Samer El-Amine, UNA-NCA Program Assistant


On October 29th, 2018, the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area along with the UN Information Centre, and the Embassy of Italy to the U.S. Digital Diplomacy Series hosted a UN Day Celebration, marking the 73rd anniversary of the United Nations with a special program featuring the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director, Henrietta H. Fore for a discussion on "Children in the Digital World." This celebration was designed to catalogue and discuss the many nuances and challenges that face children in navigating an increasingly digital world.

The event took place at the Embassy of Italy to the U.S. and began with a keynote address by Henrietta H. Fore. An informative panel followed, as guest speakers Henrietta Fore, Suzanne Kianpour, and Dr. Robert C. Orr discussed the role of Children in a Digital world. The discussion had several elements, most notably the online threats facing children and youth online; the challenges children around the world face especially in developing countries in accessing the internet; and the UN’s role in expanding access to technology and working with the private sector to use this newfound access in the name of humanitarian assistance, education, and economic opportunity.

IMG_5219_1To kick off the panel, UNA-NCA President, Stephen Moseley thanked the United Nations Federal Credit Union and AirSchott for sponsoring the event and a warm welcome to the various UN agencies, U.S. agencies, academic institutions, press and news organizations, and community members in attendance. Furthermore, he thanked the UNA-NCA intergenerational membership in Washington D.C., Maryland, and Northern Virginia, and noted that of the many UNA-USA chapters across the country, UNA-NCA is one of the largest and most active.

Moderating the conversation was Suzanne Kianpour, a BBC foreign affairs and political journalist, Emmy-nominated news reporter and producer, experienced moderator of foreign policy panels, and guest lecturer at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. Ms. Kianpour opened her remarks by mentioning how far the digital world has come, especially on an international level to become an all-encompassing force. She set the tone for the following discussion with a question about the potential of the increasingly digital world to the audience, “Is it a boon to human kind, offering unlimited opportunity for communication and commerce, learning, and free expression, or is it a threat to our way of life? Undermining the social fabric, political order and threatening our wellbeing.”

IMG_5213_1Henrietta H. Fore became UNICEF’s seventh Executive Director in January 2018. She has had a long and illustrious career with many distinguished positions including Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID); Director of United States Foreign Assistance; Assistant Administrator for Asia; Assistant Administrator for Private Enterprise. She served as Under Secretary of state for Management, the Chief Operating Officer for the U.S. Department of State, the 37th Director of the United States Mint in the U.S. Department of Treasury, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Holsman International, Global Co-Chair of the Asia Society, Chair of the Middle East Investment Initiative, and much more. She also was the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award and the Alexander Hamilton Award.

One of UNICEF’s main priorities is making the digital community affordable, accessible, available, open, and inclusive to each child in every community. One-third of all youth in the world are online. In Africa, only two-fifths of children are online in comparison to Europe, where only one out of twenty-five children lack access to the Internet. These statistics are symbolic of the disparity in internet access between industrialized countries and their developing counterparts. Other obstacles impeding the progress of universal internet access are language barriers and poor access to digital infrastructure around the world.

IMG_5217_1“The world that children face is increasingly a complex one, particularly when we think about the technological revolution that we are all living through, technologies are changing how we live, how we work, and how we relate to one another.” Executive Director Fore explained. “Today’s children and young people are affected most of all. After all, they will be the major creators, users, and beneficiaries of technology in the decades ahead, so digital issues are children’s issues and young people’s issues. Are the governments of the world adapting to these changes quickly and effectively enough? The answer is no.”

Executive Director Fore also emphasized our responsibility to join forces with the private sector and innovators around the world to better target the great primes of digital technology to the needs of children and young people that protect them along the way. “We must simultaneously empower and protect children in a digital world.” On one hand, we must expand the role of technology around the world and make use of its potential to educate, protect, and stimulate children. On the other hand, we must be aware of the adverse consequences that come with an increased presence of children and youth in the digital world.
Ms. Fore addressed also UNICEF’s role in combatting the dark side of the digital world: cyber bullying, trafficking, harassment, exploitation, and abuse. Seventy-one percent of all young people are online, and one-third of all the people in the world who are online are children or youth. UNICEF has played a huge role in working with governments like El Salvador, the Philippines, Ghana, Malaysia, Kenya, Jordan, Guatemala, and Tanzania to create new laws to combat online predators and develop cybercrime investigation units. UNICEF additionally provides resources to countries with high rates of online sexual abuse. For example, Kenya, in partnership with UNICEF, established a national child help-line that offers counselling and support to victims of online abuse. She ended her remarks by emphasizing the importance of developing new technology to anonymize children online to better encrypt their data and protect them from online predators.  

IMG_5212_1Dr. Robert C. Orr serves as Dean at the University of Maryland (UMD) School of Public Policy, previously serving as the United Nations Under Secretary-General and Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General on Climate Change. Dr. Orr has had a long distinguished career in which he held various important positions such as: Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Planning in the Executive Office of the United Nations Secretary-General, Principal Advisor to the Secretary-General on counter-terrorism, peace building, women’s and children’s health, sustainable energy, food and nutrition, institutional innovation, public-private partnership and climate change, Executive Director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government, Director of the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington DC, Deputy to the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, and Director of Global Affairs at the National Security Council.

Dr. Orr picked up right where Ms. Fore left off. He reiterated many of her concerns regarding the danger facing children and youth in a digital world. He also added an area of concern: online radicalization. “These kinds of behaviors are global, they’re sophisticated, and they target the most vulnerable among us,” he noted. When asked how we can ensure students are equipped with the tools to navigate a digital world, he responded, “We need to focus on this much earlier than we think we do.” He alluded to the fact that children are developing their online habits at a much younger age than we have seen in the past. Most children in the United States tend to develop digital literacy in early childhood and form their online habits by the age of 12. He also cautioned against using children in the United States and their relationship to the digital world as a model for the rest of the world, “We tend to extrapolate our own experience on digital to the rest of the world. Well, it just ain’t so.” He spoke about the digital literacy of his own children, and their ability to possess this digital literacy because of the country they grew up in and their socio-economic status. For the rest of the world, it is much more about creating access to the digital world than it is about dealing with the consequences of this access.

As a capstone to the event, UNA-NCA and the Embassy of Italy were pleased to give tribute to former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who passed away in August at the age of 80.