SOUTH Africa on Tuesday for the first time celebrated Safer Internet Day, which promotes the safe and responsible use of online technology and cellphones, especially among children and young people.

In South Africa, there has been an increase in online crimes targeting young people. A survey by consumer insights company Pondering Panda released last month said 16% of youths were being threatened or insulted via cellphones, e-mail or social media.

Safer Internet Day falls in February each year, and this year’s edition, the 10th, is celebrated in 100 countries. The idea was born in Europe and has grown rapidly since 2004.

This year’s theme is "Connect with Respect". Internet search provider Google, which supports the event globally, has partnered with the Department of Communications, the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, the United Nations Children’s Fund South Africa, and Mxit, Africa’s largest social network.

Google hosted a series of internet workshops on Tuesday for learners and teachers at Dainfern College in Johannesburg.

Commenting on Safer Internet Day, Fortune Sibanda, public policy manager at Google SA, said: "Because of the importance of the internet we have decided to be pro-active together with our partners and educate people on the dangers of the internet."

The celebrations focused on four themes: "Ranking Your Rights and Responsibilities", "Are You an Accidental Outlaw?", "The Responsible User’s Guide to Social Media" and "Where Do You Stand?"

Speaking at the event in Dainfern, Deputy Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said: "Children are our primary consideration, especially as their exploration of the wide-open world of cyberspace increases, particularly on mobile phones. We are committed to supporting the role of the information and communications technology private sector in protecting youth who have an online presence."

Google SA country manager Luke Mckend said: "With more than 8.5-million South Africans currently online, internet safety is a top priority. We launched an online safety campaign last year, and today are pleased to include Safer Internet Day in our efforts."