SIC+: focus on the activities of the Ukrainian National Child Toll-Free Hotline

In Ukraine, the National Child Toll-Free Hotline ("the Hotline") began its work on 1 January 2013. The work of the Hotline is managed by the civil society organisation (CSO) La Strada-Ukraine. This organisation is a partner of non-governmental organisation (NGO) Better Internet Centre from Ukraine, which joined the SIC+ programme in 2020.

As of today, the Hotline is the only nationwide hotline in Ukraine which provides support and assistance to children and adolescents who are in difficult family situations. The problems most commonly raised by children and adolescents include violence, ill-treatment, bullying, suicidal thoughts, online risks, self-harm, and so on.

The issue of children's online safety is not new for the Hotline and for La Strada-Ukraine. In 2009, La Strada-Ukraine became one of the partners of the project Onlandia: Safe Web Country. This is an interactive course on internet safety, an initiative involving the Microsoft Partners in Learning programme, socially responsible companies and NGOs, with the support of public officials. The resource Onlandia contains materials for children, parents and teachers (interactive scenarios, short texts, prepared lesson plans) helping children to master the basics of staying safe online. The information on internet safety provided by Onlandia is accessible and practical, which enables even inexperienced users to effectively use the internet resources and protect themselves from undesired content.

In 2009, La Strada-Ukraine launched the Online Hotline on Countering Child Pornography on the Internet ("the Online Hotline"). The purpose of the Online Hotline is to block internet content with violations with regards to children, including child pornography, child sex tourism and ill treatment. The Online Hotline works in the form of a website. Internet users have the opportunity to report cases of child pornography on the internet by sending the information through a special form on the main website page. The information about cases of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) can be sent anonymously. If the user wishes to remain informed about their report or to find out more about the work of the Online Hotline operators or receive a consultation, they may choose to provide contact details.

In mid-2016, the National Child Toll-Free Hotline began to receive calls concerning the participation of children and adolescents in "suicide quests" through social networks. The Hotline, as well as La Strada-Ukraine, were really concerned about this issue, and thus experts carried out many different activities for children in schools on online safety – trainings, lectures, discussion clubs, and so on. La Strada-Ukraine also organises the work of the National Training Network, which consists of teaching staff of general schools and vocational training schools. This allows to cover the educational institutions (schools, lyceums, gymnasiums, colleges, universities) throughout almost all regions of Ukraine.

In 2017, the experts of La Strada-Ukraine developed methodological recommendations "Dangerous quests for children: Prevention of attraction". The recommendations contain the methodological guidelines for pedagogues, parents and students on preventing the engagement in "death groups" in social networks. Based on the recommendations, the experts of La Strada-Ukraine also developed lessons for students of general and professional training schools on "death quests" on social media.

Every specialist in the National Child Toll-Free Hotline also actively cooperates with the media on the child online safety issues (interviews, drafting articles and giving commentaries, TV coverages, press conferences and press clubs).

The year 2020 brought significant change not only for the Ukrainian population, but for the whole world. The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic enormously influenced the everyday life of Ukrainian children and adolescents. The quarantine measures, distance learning, self-isolation resulted in the fact that children and adolescents spend all their free time in the virtual world, where they are exposed to the dangers of the online environment – excessive use, cyberbullying, sexting, grooming, fishing, carding, and so on. Hence, during the first half of 2020, the National Child Toll-Free Hotline received in total 36,830 calls and messages, among which 2,572 concerned issues related to child safety on the internet and the major risks faced by children and adolescents in the online environment.

Further information about work of the Ukrainian National Child Toll-Free Hotline during the first months since the introduction of the quarantine measures in Ukraine due to COVID-19 pandemic can be found in the presentation What troubles our children during the quarantine: calls and messages to the National Child Toll-Free Hotline (in English).

For more information about Better Internet Centre, visit the Better Internet Centre website. For more information about Safer Internet Day activities in Ukraine, visit the Ukrainian Safer Internet Day Committee profile page. To learn more about the SIC+ programme, read our dedicated article on the Better Internet for Kids portal.

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