Fifteen-year-old Rukaiya Rupa was known as a sweet, gentle girl among friends and family. However, last year, the teenager committed suicide after a fake photo of her was released on the internet.
When children face such problems on the internet, most of the time they do not share them with their parents or peers, and are left facing immense psychological pressure. As a result, some choose to end their lives, like Rupa.
At least 32 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 17 in Bangladesh are vulnerable to cyberbullying and digital harassment, according to Unicef.
The winner of this year's International Children's Peace Prize, Sadat Rahman, created an app called Cyber Teens where teenagers can file complaints if they are cyberbullied.
"When I read about Rupa in the newspaper, her death saddened me. I also realised I had to do something so that teenagers would have a platform on which to share their problems when they were cyberbullied or harassed; they would be able to find solutions and would not take their own lives," Sadat said.
An HSC candidate at Abdul Hai City College in Narail, 17-year old Sadat also runs Narail Volunteers, a youth organisation that works on raising awareness about different social issues – including safe internet usage. Around 30 volunteers work for the Cyber Teens app.
The Business Standard interviewed him while he was in Dhaka before leaving for Narail.
On winning the prize, he said, "I was just happy to be nominated. Initially, I thought once I was nominated, it would strengthen my position to tell others about the Cyber Teens app. But then I ended up winning out of the 142 finalists - this is a great achievement for me and my country."
"I was in The Hague so could not see everybody's reaction after I won. But when I switched on my phone, it immediately froze from the flood of messages!" he beamed.
Sadat has always had a keen interest in technology and he was a blogger till class seven. When Rupa's incident came to light last year, he was moved by it. He wanted teenagers to have a safe space in which to share their stories of online abuse. He discussed and developed his idea with friends, so on 9 October, 2019, Cyber Teens began its journey.
Within a year, with the help of volunteers and the police, the Cyber Teens app team helped catch eight cyber criminals and helped over 250 teenage victims of cyberbullying.
Sadat shared his first case with us, the story of a teenager who was repeatedly harassed online.
She was 17 years old and an HSC candidate. An artist had befriended her on social media and repeatedly asked her to get into a relationship with him. When she did not respond, he threatened to release indecent pictures of her – which he had created – on the internet, within 24 hours.
"When she complained to Cyber Teens, it was around 10:30pm. But I knew I had to take it seriously, so, that night I forwarded the complaint to Narail Police. In the morning, their team caught the criminal from Jashore," said Sadat.
"When we asked her to come to the police station, she said she did not know where it was. At that moment, I felt how innocent and vulnerable children really are. I used to be scared about coming to the police station too, but I no longer am," he added.
The girl's family was informed and an ICT case was filed against the artist.
The path to win the International Children's Peace Prize 2020 was not an easy one, and Sadat hopes that his achievement has paved the way for more teenagers to come forward and use Cyber Teens in their cities and countries. He chooses to remain humble about the prize, whose earlier winners include Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai.
"I sent the nomination documents with the help of our DC. The selection process went on for a few months and then a team from the Netherlands came to Bangladesh to film a documentary about us. When we caught the first criminal, I was happier than when I won the peace prize, to be honest," Sadat shared with us.
After winning the peace prize, he feels now he has a greater responsibility to serve the people of his country. "If I do not put my win to use and help others, I feel I will let down all the nominators for the peace prize. I have to respect all of those who trusted me, and gave me their love and support."
Experts from all over the world have been contacting him – even Europol held a meeting with him. Sadat said, "Many people are becoming inspired by Cyber Teens, and anyone can use this concept and implement it in their city or district. I met people from Mexico and the United States who are eager to have Cyber Teens Mexico or Cyber Teens USA. One in three young people in the world are victims of online bullying, this is a war that I am fighting and will continue to fight."
The International Peace Prize also awarded him with a full scholarship but Sadat does not plan on leaving the country anytime soon. "I am not going to leave the country now, first I will ensure that Cyber Teens reaches all 64 districts."
He is thankful for all the support he receives from the Narail Police, DC Office and cricketer Mashrafe Bin Mortaza.
"When action is taken against criminals, others like them think twice before doing something wrong. We have heard stories where girls tell cyberbullies to back off otherwise they are going to complain to us," said Sadat.
He concluded, "It is my country, and I am just trying to do my bit to help it, that is all. If I can do it in my district, then others can do the same in their districts."