During a recent mission to Vanuatu, the issue of how pornography was now sent through mobile telephones among young people was raised by one of the province heads, as a real concern.
The official had also spoken of other issues — substance abuse, migration and its population dynamics, etc — but it was the recognition that their young people were being exposed to one of the most detrimental aspects of the technology of our day and age, that reverberated in my mind.
There was acknowledgement that the young of our island communities were coming of age in an environment that even their parents couldn't really understand. The fact that such pornographic exchanges and the implicit exposure of our children, via social media was also leading to 'mobile dating' was also discussed.
This technology—enabled encounters we were told, was being reflected by a reported trend of "pregnancies are happening earlier". Young people who were being exposed already, it was acknowledged, still had a rudimentary understanding of their body, let alone appreciate what parenthood was about.
While mobile telephones facilitates how trade and other aspects of 'development', its social impact is yet to be fully realised. Anecdotal evidence however suggest how unprepared our island communities are — as parents or religious and traditional leaders — for emerging issues such as mobile pornography or dating.
Our island communities are now experiencing what developed nations have had to deal with more than a decade ago. A lot of research, albeit minimal in our region, has been conducted in this area. By 2010, the trend of teenagers making videos of their sexual encounters and then distributing it widely in the UK (BBC documentary, 2010), once they broke up was a 'norm'.
In 2006, global internet pornography raked in $US97.06 ($F172.43billion) billion in revenue. Every second, $US3million ($F5.3million) is being spent on pornography, 28,258 internet viewers are viewing pornography, 372 Internet users are typing adult search terms into search engines like Google and 79 per cent of youth unwanted exposure occurs in the home. Meanwhile, a pornographic video is made in the US every 39 minutes. (Internet Filter Review 2006).
Your child does not have to be connected to the internet to receive such material — as long as one can receive text messages, one can receive videos of pornographic nature.
Mobile pornography or 'mo-po' has been estimated by analysts to be worth about $US2 billion ($F3.5million) by 2009 globally; this is expected to increase as telephone and internet accessibility spreads. Erotica or pornography materials sales in the US were already hitting the $30million mark in 2005. Internet users would merely need to accept the websites' 'terms of conditions' and they could see all they needed to see. (www.education.com and www.enough.com )
We at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) are interested in this issue because adolescent sexual and reproductive health (SRH) is one of the core areas of UNFPA work, part of which is our intention to ensure that the populace accesses high-quality sexual and reproductive health services and information, in the 14 countries we work in.
The UNFPA is concerned because more than half the population our region is under 24 years and if we do not seriously address issues like mobile pornography, this will inform their worldview of what sex is about. When sexual encounters are based on the objectification of women, they more often than not lead to teenage pregnancies and/or the continuing disrespect of women and girls which entrenches practices of violence against women for example.
We are also very mindful of the fact that the Melanesian countries — Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu — have the highest growth rate (2 per cent) both in terms of population and urbanisation. A population growth rate of 2 per cent means population is doubling every 30 years while urban population doubles every 17 years. These population dynamics should already be setting off warning bells.
A discussion on mo-po is inevitable as we recognise how powerful an agent of information dissemination mobile telephones are becoming. As parents and community leaders, there has to be a serious reconsideration of how emerging issues like this needs to be addressed, because it influences young people's sexual behaviour.
This topic is reminiscent of experts who spoke on a 2010 BBC 4 radio documentary entitled Sex, Porn and Teenagers — the underlying message was the need to go beyond creation stories in sex education, that it was more "useful" for example to explain to students how allowing someone to take a video of them during sex could be used against them.
This week, the world will celebrate the 25th International Youth Day (August 12), also marking the end of International Year of Youth (2010-2011). One of the main global activities around this year's theme of Building a Better World: Partnering with Youth, is a positive example of the use of social media.
Six online forums will be hosted by Google+Hangouts to discuss employment, entrepreneurship, education (including sexual and reproductive health), political inclusion, citizenship and protection of rights. It is not another highfaluting UN idea: the UNAIDS launched Crowd-out AIDS earlier this year, a strategic plan by young people contributing from around the world via the internet, on how the agency should address youth and HIV/AIDS.
We at UNFPA can do all we can but if the mentality that make subjects like mo-po conversations faux pas in our homes does not change then we are fighting a losing battle. We need to be frank now if we want a wholesome new generation of young men and women who respect each other.
Let's partner with young people in their attempt to build a better world this International Youth Day and talk about issues which are fundamentally, determinants of the kind of future they will have.
We wish you a meaningful International Youth Day.
* Dirk Jena is the Director and Representative of the United Nations Population Fund Pacific Sub Regional Office in Suva