PETALING JAYA: The accelerated adoption of online services and increased screen time among young Internet users due to the Covid-19 pandemic have resulted in some disturbing discoveries.
A Unicef study on the matter said boys and girls in South-East Asia reported being sent and asked to send explicit pictures online.
The study, which was compiled into a report, said that two out of five children in the focus groups reported having bad experiences they would not want to tell anyone.
“Much of this relates to bullying with many reluctant to discuss the incidents due to social pressure, ” said the report titled “Our Lives Online: Use of Social Media by Children and Adolescents in East Asia – Opportunities, Risks and Harms”.
Of the respondents, more than half (51.7%) said that they have seen or received a sexual message, image or video about someone else that they did not want.
While 22.8% said they were asked to talk about sexual acts with someone on the Internet when they did not want to and 17.6% were asked on social media for a photo or video showing their private parts when they did not want to.
The study focused on the views and experiences of 301 girls and boys, aged between 11 and 18 from Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia and Thailand. There were 127 Malaysian participants.
Among the key questions asked were, “How are children using social media apps?”, “What risks and benefits do they perceive?”, “How do children seek help when they encounter risks?” and “What protective measures do they take?”
The report added that more than half had met someone in real life whom they had first met online with the hope of forming a romantic relationship.
“In most cases, they did not report experiencing harm, only disappointment because the person did not look like their photos, ” it said.
The study also found that children equipped with communication, conflict resolution and self-efficacy skills were likely to make appropriate choices when using social media, be better equipped to manage conflict and take better measures to keep themselves safe.
According to a previous Unicef study in 2017, one in three Internet users was a child and more than 175,000 children went online for the first time every day.
A survey by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission in 2018 found that nine in 10 children aged five to 17 were Internet users.
“In the new normal, our lives, and more so the lives of children, have gone more digital, ” said Unicef Representative for Malaysia Dr Rashed Mustafa Sarwar, adding that children were the most affected, and “we must listen to them”.