In December 2021, we became a member of INHOPE (the International Association of Internet Hotlines), with our project Net Patrola. On Safer Internet Day, it was our goal to present our efforts to both the government and the wider public, to educate on how child sexual abuse material (CSAM) can be reported with the aim of making the internet a safer space for children and victims of abuse. Psychologist Ružica Radović presented our work in this field.
After the visit, State Secretary Milan Dobrijević recorded a podcast episode on our podcast Bezbedna priča, with host Timea Kukla. They talked about media and internet literacy in our country, about how children use the internet and perceive information, and about what are we doing, as a country, to educate and prevent child abuse online during the pandemic.
Next on the agenda was a public panel discussion about internet safety for children. The debate was held at the Cultural Centre of Novi Sad involving several relevant experts:
- Đorđe Krivokapić, co-founder of the Share Foundation, talked about the importance of protecting the privacy and personal information of children who are victims of abuse and exploitation.
- Aleksandar Milosavljević, a member of the Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, educated attendees on the subject of cyberbullying, how it manifests itself, and how it affects children.
- Emina Beković, an educator from the National Contact Centre for Child Safety, explained how to report instances of online abuse, the evidence that victims should gather, and how to reach out for support.
- The State Secretary, Milan Dobrijević, presented the plans of the Serbian Government in the field of child online safety.
- Ružica Radović, coordinator of Net Patrola, explained how the helpline and hotline work and emphasised the importance of having these services.
- Lazar Čovs, fact-checker and BBC journalist, talked about false information on the internet and how it affects children. Lazar also commented on what each institution should do to educate parents, teachers, and children, to help make their internet experience better and safer.
After a series of questions and fruitful debates, it was concluded that both government and non-governmental organisations should work together to achieve the highest possible goal: a better and safer childhood for all children in our country.
Through the day, the Centre for Missing and Exploited Children shared quotes from experts in the digital and internet spheres about online safety. We asked them to describe what a safer internet means to them. Our goal was to educate the public about safer internet use and give them more than one universal definition of internet safety.
The President of the Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, Igor Jurić, visited Sremska Mitrovica as part of the Safer Internet Day celebrations and held an educational session for both children and parents on safer internet use. He covered topics relating to internet dangers – phishing, extortion, sextortion, online grooming, child sexual abuse and pedophilia, and offered advice on how to stay safe. Guidance given included creating strong passwords, awareness of location sharing and tagging, and what to do if abuse is experienced online.
Images copyright of the Serbian Centre for Missing and Exploited Children
The Centre also launched a new app. Freely available via the Google Play store, the app can help people learn about safer internet use. It also provides tools to anonymously report abuse, seek free advice from psychologists, and learn about harmful content online through educational video games.
Furthermore, as part of Safer Internet Day activity, some research was launched in the context of the DeShame project, in which the Center for Missing and Exploited Children was a partner. The study aimed to determine how much time children online, and what they experience during that time. The research showed that 90 per cent of the surveyed high school students spend seven or more hours online each day, and that they spend that time using three main apps – Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat. Most respondents reported feeling forced to share sexual content and experiencing cyberbullying online. Due to such concerning statistics, the Centre will continue to educate children, parents and other experts who work closely with children on the importance of better and safer internet use.
Find out more about Safer Internet Day celebrations in Serbia by visiting the Serbian Safer Internet Day Committee profile page, or find out more about Safer Internet Day more generally at www.saferinternetday.org.