Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse has become an issue of global concern, and some have even labelled it as a global epidemic.
The discussion should become a daily conversation among children, parents, teachers, religious and youth leaders, governments and all key stakeholders. It is only through collaboration that we can minimise the risks against children when online.
Online child sexual abuse and exploitation occurs when a child has been groomed online. Grooming is the process of gaining a child’s trust online and then using the private information to manipulate the child to do illegal or harmful acts.
For example, a 40-year-old man can open an account on a social media site and pretend to be a 16-year-old boy. He will put up content and pictures of a random teenager. In the process he will friend request your daughter who is 15, they become close friends and share lots of personal information.
The girl may think she is in love with someone who truly understands her. She may even agree to send him her nude photos since the boy will be doing the same, only that the photos the boy sends are not his. After a while, the boy could ask the girl to send nudes for her younger siblings, and if the girl refuses the 40-year-old will threaten to send the earlier photos to the girls schoolmates… And the abuse continues unless the girl speaks out.
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In most instances, children may not be aware they are being abused online. Online abusers learn their victims’ weaknesses before approaching them and offering them solutions and validation.
The moment a child starts interacting with technology, we must walk the journey with them to prevent them from seeking information elsewhere which may be misleading.
Parents and caregivers are mandated by the law to provide guidance to children under their care. However, one cannot offer guidance from a point of ignorance.
Unfortunately, the word sex and the sex conversation is still a taboo in most of the society. By burying our heads in the sand, we are subjecting our children to abuse with nowhere to turn to for help, since having such a conversation is “tabia mbaya”.
We must seek to know how online sexual abuse occurs, signs of abuse and where to seek help, since our children will interact with technology whether its on our devices, in the cyber cafes or their friends’ devices. In the digital era, we must be both a parent and a friend to our children.
The government must create an environment where; prevention conversations on child sexual abuse and exploitation can be had, reporting is made simpler, investigation of reports, and reintegration of child victims is possible. At the end of the day, we all have a role to play to keep children safe from all forms of online abuse including sexual abuse.
[Athena M Morgan, International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children]