Queen Silvia delivered a speech at the Samena Council Leaders’ Summit on Thursday, warning about children’s online safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking from her summer home at Solliden Palace, The Queen said: “You are the conductors and shapers of our digital world. I have learned that you create, manage and deliver online content to over 35% of the world’s population of children!
“But this summer is different. The COVID pandemic is raging across our planet. In my country, as in yours, it is killing thousands, especially the elderly. Connectivity is this pandemic’s hero behind the scenes: It provides access to health care, online education, crucial commodities. It allows scientists all over the world to work together in the fight against the virus. It is helping our struggling economies while it is also allowing us to socialise safely.”
But she acknowledged that for children, digital life is all they’ve ever known. “Even before the pandemic, they moved seamlessly between the physical and digital world. And for so many, the digital world has been wondrous, offering to hundreds of millions of children access to education, entertainment, gaming and socialising.
“All of us want every child to have access to these benefits in a safe way. However, early on, I learned that this world also has a dark side, and like any technology, digital platforms can be misused for criminal and immoral purposes.”
Queen Silvia spoke of her experience with the World Childhood Foundation, which she founded over 20 years ago, “to address the global challenge of child sexual abuse and exploitation. Already then, the Internet was used to exploit children and we invested in new technology to detect child sexual abuse material on corporate computers,” which is called NetClean.
“But NetClean or other technology alone cannot protect the vulnerable. A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of launching the new 2020 ITU Child Online Protection guidelines, an important milestone in our international efforts to end violence against children. I was happy to see how several UN agencies, and many global NGOs, including my Foundation, Childhood, joined forces to produce these guidelines. Let’s put these resources to work in every country, in every region…and by every government and company.”
Queen Silvia also acknowledged how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting children’s online safety.
“Please know that contrary to what everybody believes, the COVID pandemic is actually incredibly dangerous to children. The virus itself may not kill them. But not being able to go to school, sheltering in place with people who abuse or neglect them and spending more time online where predators pretend to befriend them…all this has significantly increased the levels of abuse and exploitation of children both at home and online.
Her Majesty’s speech ended with a plea for help in combatting this issue, saying: “You, the key stakeholders—policymakers and your companies—the world’s children need you to come together with civil society to prioritize child online safety. Children need to know that you will protect them, and not the abusers.
“Ladies and gentlemen, these children are not just statistics, these are real children being abused by real adults, in a real world. Every minute we wait, thousands more children will suffer. Nelson Mandela said: ‘History will judge us by the difference we make in everyday lives of children’.”
The Samena Council Leaders’ Summit is held annually in Dubai but moved to a digital platform due to the pandemic. It works with the world’s leading telecom experts and regulators to “demonstrate collaborative thought-leadership and identify practicable strategies that can contribute to the achievement of nation-level socio-economic development objectives and globally agreed Sustainable Development Goals,” according to its website.