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ELECTION 2022

Create awareness on how the children are abused online

OPINION
By Victor Koyi | Mar 25th 2021 | 3 min read
Makini School pupil interacting with upgraded e-learning offer. [Picture, Standard]

Internet use, particularly among young people, has burgeoned in recent years, especially in the Covid-19 era. According to the Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU) - the official UN source for information and communications technologies (ICTs) - at the end of 2019, over 51 per cent of the global population, or four billion people, were using the internet.

It is further estimated that 346 million internet users and 376 million social media users came online for the first time last year. Unfortunately, as much as the internet brings huge benefits and supports children’s educational and social development, it also exposes them to new and evolving forms of online sexual exploitation and abuse.

For example, incidents of cyber-bullying or children being lured by ‘predators’ through social media have become common. Predators use different applications and websites to interact with kids; they may pose as children or teens looking to make new friends. They might prod the child to exchange personal information, such as phone number, school name, parents’ details, as they plan to harm the child or family.

These are threats to children’s wellbeing and a challenge that must be addressed by all stakeholders including children themselves. No single measure will protect children from abuse and exploitation online. There is a dire need to develop a holistic and multi-sectoral approach that encompasses all communal, legal, technical and procedural aspects and involves all stakeholders including children, parents, teachers, communities, ICT service providers, policymakers and governments.

Raising awareness is important because it is the first step to vigilance and action. For example, parents should be aware of what their children see and hear online, who they meet, and what they share about themselves. But this is easier said than done.

Many parents in Africa, especially those from less educated and poor backgrounds, may not even know what cyber-bullying or online sexual exploitation is. Some may have heard of it but do not quite understand the magnitude of its potentially damaging effects.

On the other hand, children should also be helped to recognise signs of online abuse and where they can go for assistance. They should be made aware of what can happen online and that there is always a solution to problems they may encounter. Such efforts should factor in age because while younger children may tell their parents if they experience online abuse, highly self-conscious teenagers may not.

To combat online child sexual exploitation and abuse, it is encouraging to note that various initiatives by different stakeholders are ongoing. For example, Google, through its Africa Online Safety Fund, recently announced various initiatives across nine African countries to boost education efforts and develop programmes around online safety for children, young people and families.

One of these initiatives is ChildFund’s Tuchanuke (“Let’s Wise Up”) Online Child Protection project in Kenya. The programme will support projects that promote digital literacy and the online safety of children and families. It will prevent, address and respond to online sexual exploitation and abuse of children in urban sub-counties.

Young people aged 15 to 24, who are at most risk have the greatest potential to become online safety champions; With increased awareness among parents, they are positioned to keep children and youth safe from online harm. The government should develop and strengthen strategies and policies combating online sexual exploitation.

Through such initiatives, countries can adopt holistic approaches that promote online safety to assist in the development of a positive online environment for children and youth. We should mobilise and sensitise children, youth, parents and communities to prevent and respond to online sexual exploitation and children will be safer.

The writer is Africa Regional Director, ChildFund International

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