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New Delhi: The male of the species hogs the Internet in India says the Unicef, warning that the gender digital divide could have serious consequences for girls. That said, when they get the chance to access the Internet, they can take a man to jail like it happened on a flight to Mumbai.

“The Internet in India is still a ‘male preserve’, with on average only a third of users being female,” says the Unicef report on the well-being of children in the digital space. The report says girls in India will face isolation in the socio-cultural sphere if they are deprived of access to digital technology.

“There are potentially serious consequences for girls excluded from the digital age: continued isolation in countries and cultures where girls are restricted in their movement or activity online and offline because of their gender,” the report says.

“Inability to access online services and information on issues related to their health; inability to further their education; and no chance to further skills that could help them participate in the global economy of the 21st century.”

The report titled ‘The State of the World’s Children 2017: Children in a digital world’ was released globally on Monday. After the event a Unicef representative acknowledged that there was a strong push for digitilisation in India. “It is important to see who is being left out of the experience,” he said.

Globally, every third internet user is a child. Up to 71% of children use the Internet. But not much was being done to protect children from threats that digital exposure pose.

“Despite children’s massive online presence – 1 in 3 internet users worldwide is a child – too little is done to protect them from the perils of the digital world and to increase their access to safe online content,” says the report.

This was Unicef’s first look at the different ways digital technology affects children’s lives and their life chances – “For better and for worse, digital technology is now an irreversible fact of our lives,” said Unicef executive director Anthony Lake. “In a digital world, our dual challenge is to mitigate the harms while maximising benefits of the internet for every child.”

The report says the benefits of digital technology can help the most disadvantaged children, including those growing up in poverty or hit by humanitarian emergencies. But the report shows that millions of children are missing out. About a third of the world’s youth – or 346 million young people – do not have access to Internet.

The report says the Internet increases children’s vulnerability to risks and harms. That includes misuse of private information, access to harmful content and cyberbullying.

The easy availability of mobile devices has made online access for many children less supervised – and potentially more dangerous.

The Dark Web and crypto-currencies are enabling forms of exploitation and abuse that includes trafficking and ‘made to order’ online child sexual abuse The report uses current data and analysis to line up the dangers the Internet presents to children.

But the fact remains that girls are kept out of the Internet experience and that is worrying.

In all the din at the political plane, social media, which is very much part of the Internet, allowed a teenage filmstar to scream molestation and a man with an offending foot got picked up and was tossed into the caboose with bars.

The new POSCO was pretty clear: A girl or woman alleges sexual harassment, you better look forward to a long stay in the caboose with bars. The girl in this case was Internet savvy and had access to the Internet. She was not one of the girls in India deprived of access to the benefits of the Internet. She has the money and the status to get on the Internet bandwagon and go to town with any troubles that come her way.

How many parents in small town India and the villages have the means to provide access to Internet? The answer to that will be ‘Very few’.  And that was the message Unicef wanted to convey to the decision-makers of India: Women and girls should not be barred from being part of the ‘Smartphone Generation’.

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