“It is our joint responsibility, each and everyone of us, to ensure that the online environment is a safe space for our children – a space where they are free to be creative and critical in a responsible manner without any fear or concern of being abused, bullied or harassed. Let us work with children rather than for children to make sure that every day, not only tomorrow, is a safer internet day for our children.” – H.E. Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca

Project Background

Internet is now an integrated tool in our lifestyles and way of living. Indeed, the existence and role of digital technical has become undisputed. Internet provides people of all ages all around the world with alternative ways and means of communication and to engage with each other. Children and young people are at the forefront of this new norm of life. The United Nations International Telecommunication Union has noted that one third of all Internet users nowadays are children and young people. It is accounted that 94% of persons aged 15 to 24 years in developed countries are online whilst 65% of the said category in developing countries are well ahead of internet usage amongst the general population.

Internet is indeed a tool of empowerment which is equipped with educational tools that provide children and young people with skills and proficiencies for their further development. Nonetheless, it may also cause harm in cases of abuse. All children are susceptible to such digital violence whilst there is an added risk for children who are already vulnerable.

It is estimated that one third of the children and young people are victims of online bullying whilst one fifth of the aforementioned have even skipped school because of the said abuse. In 2019, UNICEF has confirmed that more than 70% of young people globally have experienced online violence, cyberbullying and digital harassment. Victims of cyberbullying stand at a greater risk of abusing from drugs and alcohol, achieve lower grades and suffer from low self-esteem and health problems. UNESCO has also confirmed that girls are at greater risk of experiencing such abuse than boys. Overall, half of the world population is online which in itself increases the risks of digital abuse. It has been proved that social media hosts the main sources of online abuse for children and young people. As a matter of fact, the upsurge of social media usage has translated into an increase in cyberbullying amongst children and young people.

Internet should not restrict or undermine children and young people’s rights including the right for education, access to information and freedom of expression. Internet should be a safe tool for engagement whereby children are enabled to acquire and augment their digital literacy.

What is P.O.P. - Up?

P.O.P. – Up (Promoting Online Protection), aims to ensure that children and young people are healthy users of technology whereby their safety and wellbeing online is safeguarded. In this regard, it will build upon and enhance existing initiatives in the field of online protection for children both on a national and international level.

This project seeks to be future proof. To this effect, its format and respective mechanisms shall be intended to overcome any upcoming and new forms of digital treats, bullying and violence which children may be encountered with on the digital platform.

It is everyone’s responsibility to protect the safety and wellbeing of children and young people in the digital environment whilst ensuring that they benefit from the digital revolution. Thus, a joint effort by policy makers, parents, guardians and educators as well as industry is fundamental. To this effect, the P.O.P – up project is based on a multi-stakeholder mechanism whereby a holistic approach is adopted throughout the implementation of the project itself and beyond.

United Nations’ 2020 Child Online Protection Guidelines

The primary and overall objective of the project is to achieve a higher degree of child online protection whilst seeking to eradicate online violence and bullying therein. In this regard, the project shall fully implement the Guidelines for children, parents and educators, policy makers as well as the industry on Child Online Protection 2020 issued by the UN International Telecommunication Union.

These guidelines are now available in Maltese. This was a lengthy process that the Foundation worked on these past few years, and they are now ready after many discussions and meetings. The translation was made possible thanks to Professor Sergio Portelli. In Maltese, these are:

Protezzjoni Online tat-Tfal – Gwida ghall-genituri u edukaturi
Protezzjoni Online tat-Tfal – Gwida ghall-genituri u edukaturi [Sommarju]
Protezzjoni Onlajn tat-Tfal – Gwida ghal dawk li jfasslu l-politika
Protezzjoni Onlajn tat-Tfal – Gwida ghal dawk li jfasslu l-politika [Sommarju]

The project also seeks to enhance collaboration and joint efforts amongst the respective stakeholders on a national as well as co-operation with relevant international partners.

Statistical exercise

A groundbreaking statistical exercise about child online protection in Malta was executed with the support of MISCO. It is the first time that an exercise of this nature was carried out in Malta. Some of the main key take aways include:

  • 15% of children between attending school from Year 3 – Year 11 stated that they have experienced online abuse.
  • Of these 83% experienced cyberbullying and 54% experienced emotional abuse.
  • 26% have experienced abuse of a sexual nature.
  • 29% of all respondents have received inappropriate or rude messages.
  • 46% of respondents who have received rude or inappropriate messages, stated that they received them from persons they know.

Training the Trainer

The Malta Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society worked with the United Nations International Telecommunication Union (UN ITU)  to provide training to psychosocial officers.

This has allowed for a total of 81 psychosocial officers (70 in Malta, 11 in Gozo) to become certified UN ITU trainers; officers who can now officially embrace and effectively practice the concept of the train the trainer, ensuring that the baton does not stop at their end. They are Malta’s first UN ITU certified trainers.

This training programme shall continue to be further extended in order to ensure the utmost outreach. Our aim is for the trainers to now pass on the knowledge and insight acquired kindly provided by our colleagues at UN ITU to parents, guardians, other educators and children themselves.

The Train the Trainer Award Ceremonies happened on the 26th of January in Gozo and 5th of February in Malta.