Technology gives child refugees a new lease of life

Kakuma Refugee Camp
Pupils from KaLobeyei Settlement Primary School in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Turkana County recite a poem during this year’s Day of the African Child held at Friends Primary School in the camp on June 15, 2019. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA) has launched mPower Youth, an initiative to showcase how mobile technology can be used as a catalyst for advancing the rights of children.

The launch concided with global celebrations marking the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) yesterday, and GSMA’s efforts are anchored on UNICEF’s child rights expertise.

The initiative is supported by a number of telcos globally, Vodafone being the key architect in helping children in refugee camps across Africa access education.

Recognising that such young people have limited access to quality education, the Vodafone Foundation set up Instant Network Schools (INS], which is a digital ‘classroom in a box’.

It provides power and internet connectivity to classrooms in refugee camps as well as tablets, a projector, a speaker and online educational content.


There are currently 36 such schools in eight refugee camps in Kenya, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo, benefitting more than 86,000 refugee students and 1,000 teachers.

Seventy trained Vodafone employees are on standby to set up the digital schools and work with the UNHCR to provide teacher training.

“Mobile operators around the world, including Vodafone, are showing that mobile technology has tremendous power to enable the fundamental rights of a child,” Mats Granryd, Director General of GSMA told Digital magazine.

“Thirty years ago when the convention was first adopted, there were 7 million mobile users globally, today there are 5.2 billion. The mobile industry continues to build on its commitment to protection and internet safety, and we have a significant role to play in ensuring that every child has a voice, and can participate and thrive in their communities.”

More than half of the world’s 25.9 million refugees are children and many are born and raised in refugee camps.

“In today’s world, children are born into situations we could not have imagined 30 years ago,” said Wivina Belmonte, Principal Advisor, Private Sector Engagement, UNICEF.

“The Convention on the Rights of the Child is as relevant in this world as it was three decades ago. We need to ensure that children are safe when exploring new technology.”

She added that the world must see that the freedoms and opportunities technology can deliver are available to every child.

“UNICEF calls on the mobile industry to demonstrate how technology can be used to reduce inequality and unleash the potential of all girls and boys,” she said.

The mPower Youth Initiative seeks to protect children against cybercrime and help them build resilient communities and businesses in regions prone to crises, such as climate-related disasters, and offering support for emergency response and recovery.

“With a right to family reunification and the special protection granted to a refugee child, mobile technology can connect migrant, refugee and displaced children to vital aid and help them to stay in touch with their families.”

The initiative will also ensure every child gets the right to an adequate standard of living.

This will be directly linked to their parents and caregivers. So by enabling new economic opportunities for whole families, particularly in low-income communities, mobile operators will help them improve the lives of children.

The efforts will see the development of mobile health programmes that support children’s access to a range of services, from vaccinations to treatment. In turn, mobile solutions will help protect the wider community by supporting the prevention and management of epidemics.

“For the many children who do not have access to essential health services, mobile technology is a game changer. Innovative apps will be used to support health screening and management of chronic diseases.”

Internet of Things (IoT) solutions, such as air quality monitors, will also be deployed to improve the environment in which children live.

And with a gap being witnessed in the adoption of technology, the initiative will be spearheading the removal of barriers to technology use, promoting digital skills and empowering young people to actively participate online.

Every child has the right to express their views, thoughts and opinions and has freedom of association. As a result, mPower will give children access to information and online communities so they can meet like-minded people, learn new things, share their opinions, participate in forums and talk to decision makers.

It will help them amplify their voice on matters that affect them, their peers and the wider community.

Instant Network Schools is one example of a wide range of industry-supported initiatives that encourage the protection of children’s rights globally.