Over 3m children victim to online abuse, report

Two-thirds of minors who use the internet have not been taught how to stay safe online. [iStockphoto]

Approximately 3.3 million children aged between 12 and 17 years in Kenya have been victims of Online Child Sexual Exploitation (OCSE), according to a report by the Disrupting Harm project.

The report indicates that out of the 14.7 million children who have access to and use the internet in Kenya, 3,381,000 have been subjected to OCSE.

The report that was published in October 2021 indicates that two-thirds of minors who use the internet have not been taught how to stay safe while engaging in online space.

According to the report, less than five per cent of children who were subjected to OCSE in the year 2020 had formally reported it to the police or a national helpline.

A further seven per cent had been offered money or gifts in return for sexual images or videos, while four per cent had been threatened or blackmailed online to engage in sexual activities, with another seven per cent of children having their sexual images shared with others without their permission.

The report was released on Safer Internet Day during the launch of a three-year programme dubbed 'Safety for Children and their Rights OnLine' (SCROL), aimed at addressing the online sexual exploitation of children in Kenya.

Terre des Hommes Netherlands, in partnership with Childline Kenya and the Directorate of Children Services, said the initiative is hinged on a goal to have all children protected from OCSE.

Country Director Terre des Hommes Netherlands, Magdalene Wanza, said while the internet offers opportunities for child development, it also provides an anonymous platform for online child sexual exploitation, an emerging vice affecting children globally.

"The SCROL programme aims to prevent and reduce the prevalence of Online Child Sexual Exploitation. The programme will be implemented in Nairobi, Kisumu and Kilifi counties in Kenya, as well as in Cambodia, Nepal and the Philippines in Asia," said Wanza.

She said by the end of the three-year period, the programme aims to empower 9,000 children to safely access the internet and equip 1,200 caregivers with online safety technical skills to monitor and regulate children's activities online.

Wanza said the programme will see 480 private sector actors adopt safety measures to protect children online and capacity-build 270 government actors, including law enforcement agencies, on child-friendly approaches to OCSE prevention.

She said the increase in internet availability across Kenya has not been matched by measures addressing how to adequately protect children in the new online environment, while some forms of OCSE are not explicitly criminalised in Kenyan law with most incidents going unreported.

"Emergence and expansion of OCSE in Kenya has also been aided by children who lack the requisite knowledge and skills to access the internet safely and caregivers who have limited knowledge to provide guidance," said Wanza.

She said through a multi-stakeholder integral approach, they can strengthen collaborative engagement, create protective systems and frameworks for children to ensure they are effectively protected by the legal system and that their agency is respected by laws, policies, societal norms and practices.

Childline Kenya Executive Director, Martha Sunda, said the programme not only empowers the child to participate in their own protection online, but also strengthens the ecosystem around them to facilitate true safety from online sexual exploitation.