Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

Digital technology is changing childhoods, with one in three internet users now under the age 18.

The worldwide web brings new opportunities for young people to learn and connect, but it also represents new threats to their well being. Fortunately a new program from ChildFund Australia is helping to keep children safe from harm online.

In Australia, most of us are online. More than 86% of Australian households have a home internet connection and this rises to 97% of households with children under the age of 15. There’s also a high chance you are reading this on your phone; Aussies are averaging more than 10 hours daily engaging with their devices. And in 2015, around one-fifth of the population accessed the internet via their mobile phones.

While developing countries have yet to reach the same online coverage, connectedness is increasing rapidly. We know in just the past six years, the number of people globally who have internet access has jumped from 2 billion to 3.4 billion, and many of those coming online have been in Asia.

Australia has long been grappling with the new risks to children that come with our increased digital connectedness. Training and awareness raising, as well as strong national mechanisms such as the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, have now been established and the online world is increasingly a part of public and political conversations.

But the developing world, without the resources, education frameworks and governance systems of Australia, is struggling to keep up. Aussie parents have had the luxury of being able to adapt gradually to technology, gaining experience with the online world first through home dial-up then broadband and now the introduction of smart phones.

Vui is part of a unique postal service in the remote province of Cao Bang in northeast Vietnam.

For eight years the veteran volunteer, who is now in her early 50s, has been delivering sponsorship letters on foot to about 70 children in her village.

The two-hour walk takes her through mountainous scenery, lush rice paddies and sugarcane farms but it’s the destination – and her work there – that Vui looks forward to.

She gets to watch the faces of the children light up when they open the letters, which have come from sponsors from all over the world.

Sometimes there’s a greeting card or a gift included.

“I remember the time when one of the sponsored children received a letter together with a poster about washing hands; at first she could not figure out what to do with the poster,” says Vui.

“She fell in love with the drawings and I explained to her about how to wash her hands and how good practices can keep her healthy.

“It was among the many times I saw how sponsorship can benefit children, beyond what we can imagine.”