Every child must be protected from violence, exploitation, and abuse on the Internet. The growth in digital technologies has created unique opportunities for children and young people to communicate, connect, share, learn, access information, and express their opinions on matters affecting their lives and communities.
In contrast, increasing access to online services also poses significant challenges to children’s safety, both online and offline. Issues range from intrusion to privacy, bullying, exposure to age-inappropriate content, scammers, and crimes like online grooming, sextortion, and child pornography. Threats are multiplying and perpetrators increasingly operate simultaneously across borders, making them hard to track and harder to hold to account.
Additionally, Covid-19 contributed to more children's interaction with the online space for the first time for education and socialisation. Due to the restrictions to contain the spread of the virus, young children began interacting with the online space earlier and more frequently. This left them at risk of accessing inappropriate content or being targeted by criminals in the production of child sexual abuse materials (CSAM).
Emerging technologies can be a part of the solution. For example, Cyber Soldjas, an online game launched by the Communication Authority of Kenya to promote a safer online environment for children and Interpol’s artificial intelligence-based child sexual abuse database which uses image and video comparison software to quickly make connections between victims, abusers, and places. But technology alone will not solve the problem. To reduce the risks, a collaborative and coordinated multi-stakeholder response is vital.
The private sector plays a key role in establishing the foundations for providing safe and secure online spaces for children. Businesses should operate with children’s interests at heart, with a focus on the protection of young users' privacy, preservation of their right to freedom of expression, battling the growing menace of CSAM, and ensuring the existence of an effective response system to address children’s rights violations.
The private sector can take actions to protect children online and promote positive use of ICT by integrating child rights considerations into all appropriate corporate policies and management processes.
This requires companies to take sufficient measures to identify, prevent, mitigate, and remedy possible violations of children’s rights. According to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, all businesses and industries should have appropriate policies and processes to enable respect for human rights. There is a need to establish effective mechanisms to enable the public to report abusive and exploitative content online. Industry, law enforcement agencies, governments, and civil society must collaborate to ensure adequate legal frameworks are in place for effective prosecution of online child sexual exploitation crimes and protection of victims.
Ms Anukur is the Kenya Country Director, ChildFund