A game designed to teach children how to stay away from sexual predators and other dangers lurking on the Internet was unveiled Wednesday at a UN forum in Rio de Janeiro that addressed cybercrime.
The Wild Web Woods uses familiar fairy tales to guide children through a maze of potential dangers, so they can safely reach the magnificent "e-city."
The game, designed for children aged seven to 10, was launched by the Council of Europe at the UN Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Rio de Janeiro. It is available on the Internet in English, with 12 other European languages to follow.
The 47-nation council said the game is a key step in its efforts "to curb grooming of children by abusers through the Internet."
"Internet is a major concern in relation to the sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children," said the council, echoing the feelings of many of the 1,700 participants at the November 12-15 gathering in Rio.
Council of Europe Deputy Secretary General Maud de Boer-Buquicchio stressed children represent one of the main categories of Internet users.
"The Internet empowers them, but it also creates new threats to their safety. Sexual exploitation of children is, of course, one of such threats," she told delegates from about 100 countries.
A British group specialized in online protection of children said it has received 5,000 complaints since its creation a year and a half ago.
"The technology has increased children's exposure to an unprecedented level," said Alex Nagle, of Britain's Child Exploitation and Online Protection Center.
Several participants stressed that while the World Wide Web has spread knowledge and economic opportunity, it also has a social cost, notably with the rapid spread and easy availability of pornography.
"In many developing countries, the drive to train a new generation in technology skills as a foray into global commerce has produced an epidemic of pornography addiction that parents have no idea how to address," said Cheryl Preston, a law professor at Brigham Young University in Utah.
Gitte Stald of the EU Kids Online said there is plenty of research on risk areas of the net, including sexual violence, racist material, and drugs, but that much remains to be done, particularly on how young people should confront those Internet threats.
De Boer-Buquicchio said a key step would be for more nations to join the 43 that have signed on to the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime, which she said was the only international treaty dealing "in a comprehensive manner and in full respect of fundamental human rights, with crimes committed through the use of the Internet."
She also encouraged non-European countries to join a convention for the protection of children against sexual exploitation and abuse that seeks to strengthen international cooperation in tracking down "pedo-pornographers" and "groomers" of children.