During the Protecting Children in the Digital Space conference at the Beirut Bar Association, speakers warned that internet abuse has become a threat to the safety of children in Lebanon. They emphasized that child protection was not limited to protecting them from sexual exploitation and human trafficking alone, but it also included cyberbullying, which sometimes leads to suicide. According to a 2018 study conducted by Save the Children in Lebanon, children in the country were most exposed to physical bullying (41 percent), while 6 percent were victims of cyberbullying. The study found that Syrian refugee children were most exposed to verbal bullying (32 percent) and Lebanese and Syrian children were bullied at almost the same rates, at 21 and 19 percent.
Mayke Huijbregts, from UNICEF Lebanon, highlighted the fact that the global changes and increasing risks due to COVID-19 have forced children to learn online, exposing them to various kinds of risks, such as viewing harmful content and sharing their images that can travel the world in seconds, making them victims of social media. She stressed the necessity of sharing UNICEF’s plans in Lebanon with relevant ministries, launching awareness-raising campaigns at schools, and holding training sessions.
Suha Ismail, head of the International Center for Human Justice, emphasized that smartphones and video games have created many risks that can threaten the safety of children, subject them to extortion, kidnapping or addiction, while also affecting their physical and mental development. Despite local censorship, which cannot provide protection on its own, the situation requires the adoption of regulations and the development of laws. These steps are at the heart of the center’s objectives, with the aim of having a legal framework and training sessions that serve this purpose.
Nadine Dakroub, president of the Juvenile Affairs and Children’s Rights Committee at the Beirut Bar Association, said that “rapid technological development sometimes gets ahead of the development of local laws related to the protection of juveniles and minors.” Therefore, there is a need to ensure that regulations and laws are in place to protect children online and provide training sessions that serve this purpose.