Why kids need to be involved in Internet governance discussions

By on 15 Dec 2022

Category: Community

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Kids at the Bangladesh Kids IGF

I am Aysha Labiba, I am 13 years old and a student in the sixth grade of high school in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and I’m looking forward to making this planet a better place by ensuring kids all over the world have access to a safe Internet.

I see firsthand both the huge opportunities and damaging effects of the Internet for kids. It can be a huge enabler for education, it gives us access to information for living, it connects us globally, and it is also a place to advocate for ourselves and share our voices.

In my economy — and many others — many parents don’t trust the Internet and don’t let kids have any access at all. This deprives kids of all the good things the Internet can bring. But kids will always find a way to access the Internet and if they haven’t been given the skills to use it safely, they’re extra vulnerable. A good example of this is during the pandemic, everyone had to use the Internet, and kids who didn’t have skills in using it safely were in danger.

Girls are often even more disadvantaged in terms of access and cyber-safety skills, as are kids in rural areas. In Bangladesh, if a family in a village can afford a mobile phone, 20 to 30 students will go to that one house, and all use the phone to study.

My parents have always tried to help me understand the good and the bad of technology and normalize the Internet to make it safe. I started thinking about this in 2016 — I was seven — when I was browsing websites with my parents and stumbled on the Bangladesh School of Internet Governance (bdSIG) website. I participated in bdSIG (my parents came with me) and am now a proud bdSIG fellow.  

In 2021, I was invited to be a speaker at the first-ever Bangladesh Kids Internet Governance Forum (BKIGF) for my engagement work in Internet governance.

Image of Aysha Labiba at BKIGF 2022.
Aysha Labiba at BKIGF 2022

BKIGF is an initiative of the Bangladesh Internet Governance Forum (BIGF) in conjunction with the United Nation’s Internet Governance Forum (IGF). The vision of BKIGF is to encourage Bangladeshi kids to keep up engagement in regional, national, and international Internet governance and increase kids’ participation in the Internet system. It is a multistakeholder platform that values cooperation and collaboration, and creates understanding between the Bangladeshi kids’ community and stakeholders. Its goal is to empower kids to rise to the challenges of cyber safety, embrace innovation, and reduce digital discrimination.

In previous years, discussions about kids and the Internet world were lucky to have a single session at a meeting in Bangladesh, and it was always organized and presented by adults.

BKIGF 2021 was organized, hosted and presented by and for kids, specifically around safety. It was a real challenge as we were all working virtually due to the pandemic. The aim was to enable equal representation and support participation from all communities, where all groups could go on discussing the barriers to inclusion and awareness for a safe and affordable Internet. Rural and minority groups such as kids with disabilities and kids with strict parental controls were well represented during the conference, helping the broader community to understand and prioritize the needs of individual groups. 

When the program was initially set, there was only one session as it was the opening ceremony, however, that didn’t stop the speakers raising their voices on behalf of the rural children and urban too. The speakers were from various schools and the participants shared their experiences too. It was a very successful event and working with the team and organization leaders was a hard, but fabulous experience.

I feel BKIGF 2021 inspired Bangladeshi kids to feel empowered while working towards a sustainable future in Internet governance. For me, it highlighted the importance of children and the damage that will occur if we don’t work for a safer Internet now. I am grateful to be a part of that success and thank all members of KIGF Bangladesh and the sponsors. I’m also grateful to the community members for the guidance of BIGF. Together, we made history. From now on, KIGF Bangladesh will be held every year.

This year, at BKIGF 2022, I was invited to speak again about the safety of the Internet for kids and was a moderator. This role is a huge honour and allows me to work in the service of Bangladeshi kids.

We need to continue to work to understand the culture and needs of our kids. I encourage kids to get involved and participate any way they can, attend international fellowship programs and share their experiences, so their important voices can be heard loud and clear for the benefit of all.

Aysha Labiba is a high school student passionate about kids’ online safety and accessibility in Bangladesh and globally, and is involved in a number of Internet governance groups.

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The views expressed by the authors of this blog are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of APNIC. Please note a Code of Conduct applies to this blog.

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