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Nordic Joint Statement on Connectivity and Access to Digital Technology for Children

02.10.2020  16:29

This statement is delivered on behalf of Finland, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, and my own country Denmark.

The Nordic countries would like to express our deep appreciation to Niger, Belgium, the Dominican Republic, China, Estonia, France, Germany, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and South Africa for organising this important meeting on universal connectivity and access to digital technology in conflict situations.

Education is key to long-term peace and security and sustainable development. Education is a human right. When children are deprived of education, it will have an enormous impact not only for the individuals concerned, but for society as a whole.

With nearly half of all learners still affected by school closures, the COVID-19 pandemic has underlined the need for accelerating the efforts towards connectivity for all. Children living in conflict-affected areas face even greater risks and challenges in accessing safe education. The latest report by the Secretary General on children and armed conflict of June 2020 verified 927 attacks on schools and hospitals. In such situations, digital technology is an essential tool in the efforts to facilitate the continuation of education in conflict-affected communities, and we must make sure that the technological solutions developed are fit-for-purpose in this respect. Digitalisation and connectivity also means increased digital risks, not least for children in situations of conflict and vulnerability. Due consideration to principles of protection of personal data and do-no-harm should therefore guide our work in this area.

Education is the key to promote societies where girls have equal rights and opportunities, protected from harmful practices, and provided with the means to be independent and self-reliant. Without access to continued learning, children are at higher risk of domestic violence; sexual abuse; child, early and forced marriages; and unwanted pregnancies; as well as recruitment by armed forces or armed groups in situations of conflict.

Ensuring connectivity and access to devices along with teacher capacities and appropriate educational content is crucial. However, to ensure girls’ access to continued learning, it is also necessary to address the digital gender divide. In low- and middle-income countries, 165 million fewer women own a mobile phone compared to men, and in many countries, boys are 1.5 times more likely to own a phone than girls. In Sub-Saharan Africa, data suggests that information technology skills are facilitated by schooling, but there may be gender-related barriers that prevent adolescent girls from developing these skills to the same extent as boys. In more than half of the countries analysed by UNICEF, adolescent boys use computers and the Internet more frequently than girls. Gender norms that limit girls’ use of digital technologies may contribute to this gap. Important work is being done to bridge the digital gender divide, including through the African Girls Can Code Initiative, working to empower women and girls to pursue a career in the field of information communication technology.

When adopting policies and integrating digital technologies it is crucial to account for the challenges in ensuring connectivity for all. Moving forward we must continue to be guided by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including the principle of Leaving No One Behind. Therefore, technological solutions to enable distance learning must be developed with the aim to reach those furthest behind, including women and girls, displaced persons and persons with disabilities.

We believe that it is necessary with a whole-of-society-approach in order to succeed in closing the digital divide. We need to include all relevant actors, such as local authorities, civil society, the private sector, teachers and caretakers along with relevant humanitarian and development actors. For example, we need to ensure access to the necessary hardware required for learning programmes and we need to support teachers in adapting to new ways of teaching.

Today’s digital infrastructure is largely driven by the private sector, even in countries affected by conflict. Tech companies design, implement and run everything from the underlying technical elements invisible to most of us such as cables and satellites, to the devices and online platforms we need in our hands to go online. Being gatekeepers for connectivity calls for great societal responsibility. When connecting the world through their services, tech companies have a responsibility to include vulnerable groups and ensure reliable connectivity for people caught in areas of conflict or disaster where the internet can be the only way to uphold schooling and education. Once connectivity and the necessary hardware is in place, access to relevant, high quality content that complies with best practice in privacy and security is of crucial importance. The Digital Public Goods Alliance works to facilitate the discovery, development, use of and investment in digital public goods in order to accelerate the attainment of the SDGs in low- and middle-income countries and is thus critical to this work.

We welcome the important work of the Giga initiative to reimagine education and to increase connectivity to schools in the world, especially in those countries that are or have been affected by conflict, as well as other important partnerships, such as the Digital Public Goods Alliance.

The Nordic Countries urge all UN Member States to continue efforts to ensure connectivity for all with the aim of expanding access to education to children in conflict-affected areas. This is essential for long-term peace and security and sustainable development in affected communities.

Thank you.