Empowering communities with technology tools to protect children

Conversation Details

Dates of conversation: 
Wednesday, October 17, 2012 to Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Conversation type: 
Type of tactical goal: 

Summary available

Thank you for joining Linda Raftree of Plan International USA and the New Tactics community for this conversation! Children have rights, including the right to be protected from violence, exploitation and abuse.  Yet, millions of children around the world suffer from threats at home, at school, in their communities, in institutions, while working, or when they are separated from their families.  To address this issue, new technology tools are being developed and adapted to support communities’ efforts to protect children. 

In Kenya, communities have adopted a digital birth registration process using mobile phones.  Having a legal identity through birth registration gives children greater access to their rights and reduces risks of trafficking, child labor, and child marriage.  In Benin, communities are using mobile phones to report violence against children. Over 100 reports on physical abuse and child trafficking have been received through this system and used to protect the victims and advocate for improved government resourcing to prevent violence.  There is also growing evidence that children and youth who have left their homes to seek work, to escape abuse or due to climate change, disaster or conflict are using mobile technologies to connect with each other and to needed resources.  These are just a few examples of how new technology tools can be applied to protect and support the most vulnerable populations of children. This online dialogue was an opportunity to learn and share the ways that communities and institutions are using and adopting new technology tools to protect their children.


Tactics shared

How is technology helping communities to protect children?

Participants shared that the technologies their communities use to help protect and empower children facilitate greater communication between children and service providers, creative expression, and advocacy for rights. Forms of technology mentioned include emergency hotlines, email, peer-to-peer forums, SMS texting, photography, resource centers, and digital mapping. Child helplines enable at-risk children to call a trusted and trained counselor, report cases of abuse or endangerment, and seek protection or removal from the situation. One participant shared that after a child connects with a counselor on the hotline, that counselor then assumes the responsibility of “rescue and retrieval” of the child. Services are free and provide an opportunity for children to advocate for themselves before their counselors, local officials, and global reports on children’s rights. In addition to helplines, participants also value the use of SMS texting and other “rapid” technology for immediate recording of abuses and unaccompanied children, digitization of birth registration, and mobilization among youth. SMS or video recording of abuses can be empowering for children in that they can self-report in their own words and on their own terms. Increasing and modernizing birth registration documents children and their rights, and in turn minimizes the ability of human traffickers and other threatening people to exploit and traffic the children. Other digital technologies such as mapping can effectively advocate for children by identifying harmful environmental patterns and presenting such evidence to powerful officials who can implement change. Similarly, photography and other art forms also allow youth to express themselves while advocating for their rights by documenting oppression and appealing to local officials or policymakers. Finally, resource centers allow youth to learn new technological skills, connect with each other, and find work, which promotes their agency and respect within their communities.

What are the biggest challenges and risks in using technology to protect children?

Challenges and risks of using technology for children’s empowerment include maintaining children’s access to protection services, safety and security of technology, adult involvement, and assessment of programs that strive to protect youth. Children may have limited access to services and technologies due to threats, location, or a lack of knowledge of available resources. One participant considered gender inequalities and sexism, asserting that organizers cannot automatically assume that females have safe or equal access to technologies or high levels of literacy. Another participant stressed that internet access alone does not guarantee empowerment, and that child protection services should strive to understand and create safe and appropriate spaces for counseling and other responses to abuse. Participants encourage evaluation of child protective programs, direct feedback from child participants, and involvement of parents to improve both the effectiveness of the programs and children’s safety.

Reporting violence or other abuses via the internet or SMS text messaging can be dangerous if a third party intercepts or manipulates the relayed information, or irrelevant if affected children are illiterate. Participants suggest adult organizers assume responsibility for more strategic planning of programs and higher levels of digital literacy to prevent ineffective and unequal practices. Some organizations also have consultants and published reports that promote safe social networking tactics that protect children from offensive material, coercion, and cyberbullying. To prevent childrens’ harassment as a consequence of technology use, participants suggested that organizations work to ensure anonymity and maintain internet security by using firewalls, password protection, and pre-approving contributions before publishing them online.

As many children may not have access to or knowledge of services available to them, organizations have attempted to engage children living on the streets or in other hostile situations by way of universal helpline numbers, mobile counseling, and youth outreach projects. Finally, monitoring child protection systems can be challenging as well, as there is not always a clearly defined individual or body responsible for children and upholding their rights. One participant suggested promoting all citizens’ accountability for protecting all children’s rights to increase widespread awareness and urgency to advocate for all children in society, instead of solely those belonging to one’s immediate family.  

What new opportunities exist for the use of technology for child protection?

Technology offers many progressive opportunities for both protecting and empowering youth. Participants referenced a variety of progressive mediums and uses of technology for child protection, ranging from tracking software, mobile phones, online chats, video conferences, and voice-based interventions such as radio broadcasts. As technology continues to advance, participants suggested that mobile apps and social networking will become increasingly relevant for child protective services. Online booking softwares and video conferences can allow children to confidentially communicate with teachers and trusted counselors regardless of their location home situations. With respect to vulnerable migrant children or children on the move, ICTs can track their locations and connect them with family and friends in their home countries to promote their safety and security. In other cases, however, children utilize technology to express  and empower themselves. One participant cited the success of children’s involvement in video and radio broadcast productions by making their voices and opinions heard, and further enabling communication with others who call or text in during the broadcause to share their input or reactions. Participants suggested strengthening institutions that protect children by collaborating with accredited universities, researchers, and other academics. Finally,  it is important that programs consider and respond to the concerns and interests of children in order to adapt to their needs in a respectable, effective, and even fun manner.


Blog posts by dialogue participant Linda Raftree of Plan International USA

Child Helpline International

Reports & other publications

Toolkits and Guides

Conversation Leaders

lraftree's picture
Linda Raftree
Plan International USA
Laura Walker Hudson's picture
Laura Hudson Walker
Pernille's picture
Pernille Ironside
MirkkaMattila's picture
Mirkka Mattila
UNICEF West and Central Regional Office
Philippa Hawke's picture
Philippa Hawke
Kids Helpline/BoysTown Australia
Peter - BRIS's picture
Peter Irgens
BRIS (Children's Rights In Society)
lksriv's picture
Lina Srivastava
Regarding Humanity
Michael Mahrt's picture
Michael Mahrt
War Child Holland
Ernst Suur's picture
Ernst Suur
War Child Holland