» Archive for category: ‘social media


‘Empowering Children and Young People through Technology’ was the theme of Child Helpline International’s 7th International Consultation  that took place in London from 29th-31st October 2014

According to the 2014 report by the global child helpline network-Child Helpline International (CHI), between 2012-2013 alone, over 28 million children contacted child helplines and hotlines in different parts of the world. It further reports that:

The majority of these contacts were recorded at child helplines in Europe (41%), followed by Asia Pacific (32%), Africa (17%), Americas and Caribbean (5%), and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) (5%). Children and young people who contacted child helplines were between 10 – 17 years of age. The majority of contacts were made over the telephone. (p.6)

Whilst the majority of contacts were made over the telephone, this is likely to change in the future. Hence, child-friendly helplines offer a diverse range of communication options for young people between the ages of 5-25 years including web-based chats, short text messages (SMS), voice calls, letters through the free post as well as direct physical contact with social workers and volunteers.

CHI is a global network of 175 child helplines across 143 countries (2013 data). It seeks to support the ‘creation and strengthening of national free of cost child helplines around the world’ whilst also using ‘child helpline data and knowledge to highlight gaps in child protection systems and advocate for the rights of children’ (p. 48) Despite these efforts, it is estimated that the current helplines can only respond to 50% of all the contacts children make. This means that about half of the contacts made by children remain unanswered because of limited human and material resource-capacity of helplines.  In addition, millions of children are still unable to access child helplines altogether. Expenses are an important factor here. It is for this reason that conference delegates called on ICT companies and states to make all contacts by children to helplines and hotlines free.  Delegates included representatives of;

  • communication companies such as British Telecoms (BT), GSMA network which represents  interests of over 250 mobile phone companies and 800 telephone operators
  • UN  agencies (UNICEF ), regional bodies  like the African Union, League of Arab States and the European Union (EU), government  representatives and special rapporteurs like Mrs. Maud de Boer-Buquicchio (Netherlands) who is the special  rapporteur  on sale of children
  • A mixed group of old and newly established  child helplines  including NSPCC- UK who were also the hosts, Childline Kenya,  Missing Children Europe, Palestinian Helpline SAWA, as well as those with high end as well as more traditional technologies

With support from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and regional bodies like African Union and the EU, national telecommunication regulators have issued unified, easy to remember service numbers for child helplines (116111 for Europe, 116 for Africa, 1098 for Asia). Some telecommunication companies like Telefonica of Spain have also supported operations of child helplines for years as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). However, these remain geographically isolated actions compared to the growing demand for services to children. There is need to make services absolutely free and accessible on a universal scale. Delegates argued that this will remove an important financial barrier in service access, and contribute to fighting violence against children, making it an important step towards realising Child Helplines International aim of making sure that every child’s voice is being heard.

This campaign looks promising. Already, GSMA has signed an agreement with CHI to promote the work of child helplines among its members, this commitment was made public on 20th November 2014 during the UN celebrations of the 25th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in New York last week.

Guest contribution by Irene Nyamu  (ISS MA programme ‘Social Policy for Development’, and one of the conference delegates as she was actively involved in establishing a functional 24 hours helpline in Kenya in 2006. Irene also served as a CHI Advisory Board member 2010-2012 representing helplines within the African region)


sweetieAn Australian sex offender is believed to be the first Sweetie related conviction.

I earlier posted about Sweetie (see HERE), a virtual 10 year old girl from the Philippines created by Terre des Hommes who uses it as a ‘bait’ in cyberspace in their fight against ‘online child sex tourism‘. Although the debate continues whether material obtained through a virtual character like Sweetie is admissible to courts (see HERE), Terre des Hommes announced today that their Sweetie campaign has contributed to a first conviction. It concerns a 37 year old Australian man who got in touch with Sweetie and who was found in possession of child pornography.

posted by Roy Huijsmans


Terre des Hommes Stop Webcam Child Sex Tourism’ campaign forcefully calls attention to the exploitation of children in cybersex. The campaign raises many questions and, I argue, constitutes an example of doing development James Bond style.

Discussions on ICTs in relation to children present an awkward divide. In the literature pertaining to the western world there is increasing attention to problematic aspects, including cyber bullying, online grooming, etc. Such issues are hardly discussed in the development studies literature concerning children and ICTs. Here, ICTs remain predominantly seen in a bright positive light, exemplified by slogans as ICT4D, and the various ‘1 laptop per child’ initiatives.

The recently launched Terre des Hommes campaign ‘Stop Webcam Child Sex Tourism’ does much to problematize this state of affairs. As part of their efforts to stop child sexual exploitation, they have now zoomed into ‘Webcam Child Sex Tourism, which Terre des Hommes understands as: ‘when adults pay to direct and view live-streaming video footage of children in another country performing sexual acts in front of a webcam’.

Central to the campaign is ‘Sweetie’, a virtual 10 year old girl from the Philippines who was used by Terre des Hommes researchers as a ‘bait’ in cyberspace. In a nearly 8 minute youtube clip Sweetie tells her story. Over a period of two months the research team caught, by manipulating Sweetie, 1000 individuals from more than 65 countries red-handed. They tracked their details and recorded their practices. The file is handed over to the Dutch police.

The message Terre des Hommes sends into the world is seductively simple: ‘If our researchers and Sweetie can track more than 1,000 webcam child sex tourists in only 2 months’ time, the international police should be able to trace 100.000 a year.’ They have thus opened an online petition to ‘Justice ministers, police chiefs and child protection chiefs’. The petition text reads as follows:

‘As citizens concerned about children’s mental and physical welfare, we call on you to crack down on Webcam Child Sex Tourism. This will require announcing a plan for intercepting potential predators in public chat rooms, initiating prosecutions and challenging intermediaries who enable and profit from this vile trade. We expect you to act fast, decisively and accountably, to prevent more young lives being ruined.’ 

So far the campaign details. However, the significance of the campaign is only partly found in its details – there is more happening here.

Watching the youtube clip there were a few features that struck me. The clip starts as an investigative detective. No spoken words, no images of people. Just words appearing on screen in a firm capitalized font. Intense music is adding to the atmosphere that is built up. As with all detectives, we know that something will be uncovered. Something that we couldn’t imagine just a few seconds ago.

There are numbers. Presented in digital counters, suggesting great certainty about the smallest of details. From numerical and digital precision we move to global visions. We oversee it all. We see a globe rotating. We see maps. We see tiny lights appearing on the surface of the earth. That’s where the perpetrators are, we can see them! They are caught, and we have recorded every detail whoever and wherever they are.

This grand act of knowing is staged in a highly masculine manner. With the exception of one, all actual people appearing in the clip are male, the researchers, the Terre des Hommes director, and also the voice-over is a sure, never failing male voice. These are not random men. These are the good men! ‘Good’ in various ways as is evident from the sharp contrast with the blurred images of the male perpetrators with their overweight bodies caught in shameful acts. These are the bad men, without doubt. Masculinity is there too in the construction of Sweetie. It is men who have masterminded and control this virtual image, and it is their technology that is going to save us from the bad men out there.

How should we understand this all? This is more than a campaign and Terre des Hommes is a large international NGO (non-governmental organization). What we see here is far from insignificant. We have had Angelina Jolie, Marco Borsato, and various other international and national celebrities giving publicity to a range of (I)NGOs and their activities. There is none of them here. Or perhaps there is, but it is taken to another level.

We don’t get the celebrity actors and actresses. But even better, we get the big thriller that made them famous. Just like James Bond there is an intimate link with the state, and Terre des Hommes, not unlike James Bond, simultaneously acts in ways that (most) state-actors won’t get away with. Altogether, the campaign is a powerful (if subliminal) rebuttal to current critiques and cynicism about the potency of development work. This is perhaps best captured by the call for ‘proactive policing’ through the use of virtual baits to track and catch ‘predators’ even before any actual crime is committed involving actual human beings. Yet this resurrection of development practice is also a particular one. A development fantasy is constructed that seamlessly combines the MDG obsession with numbers and targets, with high-tech and virtual bodies. The practice of ‘proactive policing’ deeply complicates any state-nonstate distinction, and the entire project is framed in a highly masculine style. Is development, then, once again the terrain of good guys saving us from the bad ones, but this time in James Bond style?

posted by Roy Huijsmans

posted by Roy Huijsmans

In their recent article in Journal of Sociology entitled Beyond the ‘Transitions’ Metaphor, Johanna Wyn, Sarah Lantz and Anita Harris report on findings from research on attitudes towards and practices of civic and political engagement of young people (15-18 years) in Victoria, Australia.

In the present day, when much is made of the importance of the internet in relation to youth the following finding is worth flagging: Only 40% of the total 970 young people surveyed claimed that ‘online forums’ were places where they felt they could ‘have a say’. In comparison, 95% felt this was the case with friends, 89% referred to their family, 83% to their classroom, 76% to school and 44% to work. In addition, only 36% of the surveyed young people wished for a lot ‘more of a say’ in online forums. Only, the wish to have a lot more of a say in their electorate in which they lived ranked lower (35%).

Perhaps less surprising but worth flagging are the findings with whom the surveyed youth discuss social and political issues. ‘Parents’ ranked top of the list (58%) followed by friends (56%), in class (56%), other family members (44%), with no one else (29%), someone in the community (20%), and only then ‘online’ (20%).

Whilst the internet is no doubt an important space for young people, and may offer new possibilities for political participation, these findings remind us that, at least in the Australian context, the internet does not derive its popularity from its political potential, and neither is it necessarily a more important, or the only, space for political engagement of youth.


posted by Roy Huijsmans

TeachUNICEF‘ is an online portfolio offering ‘free global education resources’ on topics ranging from ‘human trafficking’ to ‘peace education’. Resources include lesson plans, stories, and multimedia resources, all with the stated aim of supporting and creating ‘well-informed global citizens who understand interconnectedness, respect and value diversity, have the ability to challenge injustice and inequities and take action in personally meaningful ways’.

The resources appear designed for consumption in the Global North, or in some instances for the USA specifically as is evident from question 4.3 of Lesson 1 in the ‘End Trafficking’ pack for grades 6-8:

‘Where does human trafficking occur in the United States?’ (the correct answer is given as: ‘Human trafficking has been reported in all 50 states, with particularly high rates in California, Texas, Florida, and New York’

Furthermore, the lesson plans are made ‘age appropriate’. In the same lesson pack on Ending Trafficking it is for example suggested that ‘sex trafficking’ may be omitted from the lessons on child trafficking ‘due to the age of the intended audience’. For this reason, the resources including sex trafficking have been marked as ‘optional’ and should these be included, UNICEF ‘recommend[s] that you collaborate with and gain the support of your administration, school mental health professionals, and your students’ families before including this mature content’.

The site also includes an interactive map, allowing educators to scroll the globe and to navigate from a PODCAST on ‘the recruitment of child soldiers in Somalia’ to a VIDEO on ‘UNICEF reponds to nutrition crisis in the Sahel’ pinned down in Chad, and to ‘Action: Advocacy’ pinned down in the USA.

In short, TeachUNICEF offers plenty of material to study the representation of geographies of development. A study of the ‘consumption’ of these ‘global resources’ in classrooms in the Global North would also be of great interest. This would illuminate how these lessons (plans) are appropriated in diverse settings and this may shed some light on whether the stated aims of TeachUNICEF are indeed achieved.



Category: social media

21 Jun 2012

posted by Roy Huijsmans

‘Every week, someone in Sweden is @Sweden: sole ruler of the world’s most democratic Twitter account. For seven days, he or she recommends things to do and places to see, sharing diverse opinions, and ideas along the way. After that, someone else does the same – but differently. Follow all nine million of us. Welcome to Sweden’

This is the Curators of Sweden project in a nutshell, which, as a government project, proudly declares that Sweden is the first country in the world to establish a national Twitter account which is in the hands of its citizens. The project is rooted in the idea that in a globalised world, how a country is perceived abroad has become increasingly important, and by establishing this national Twitter the project envisions that a different picture(s) of Sweden is painted that the those obtained through traditional media.

Not everyone can become a Curator, one’s got to be nominated and has to be Twitter literate. Whilst this has not lead to young curators solely (in fact the oldest Curator was 60 years), many of the people behind the @sweden account have been young people providing the world with some insight into what it means to ‘be young and Swedish’.

Just before Bangkok would become the site of Aung San Suu Kyi’s first trip outside her country in more than two decades, the Thai capital welcomed Lady Gaga on Don Mueang Airport. Local news reports claim that fans had come from as far as Hanoi to witness Lady Gaga’s Asian part of her Born This Way Ball concert tour that also touched down in South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Philippines, Singapore, but got cancelled in Indonesia after the police refused to issue a permit based on grounds of security concerns following protest from religious groups.

Official ticket prices for the Thai concert ranged from 1,500 to 7,000 Thai Baht, which did not stop more than 50,000 fans from buying a ticket. This made it according to New Mandala the ‘biggest concert held by an international artist [in Thailand] in more than a decade’. Lady Gaga’s global popularity is also evident from topping the Twitter rankings with more than 20 million followers. Tweets from disappointed Indonesian fans following the cancellation of the Jakarta concert show that these followers are found across the globe and reflect a global fan culture.

International Institute of Social Studies

ISS is an international graduate school of policy-oriented critical social science. It brings together students and teachers from the Global South and the North in a European environment.