Keeping children safe on the internet is a daunting task. This is because the internet is an interesting place for children; there are countless printable templates of anything for children to colour: dogs, cats, flowers, butterflies and tree houses. There are also very many videos of baby songs and riddles.
What children do not know is stuff about privacy, social media etiquette, viruses, phishing and cyber criminals. On the internet, children may be exposed to bullies, sexual predators, kidnappers and other criminals. WhatsApp, Facebook, MySpace, Instagram, SnapChat, and other portals which are commonly known as social media sites are the commonest and most unsafe places for children when they are using the internet.
In the news last night, there was a story of a 42 year old law professor in Brisbane who was arrested by Police in Australia after a tip off that he was duping teenagers to believe that he was pop singer, Justin Beiber. The professor initiated conversation with hundreds of teenagers on the internet from where he devised means to sexually exploited them, including asking the teens for pictures of themselves, naked.
Upon his apprehension he was charged with over 900 offences. His victims were mainly in the US, German and the United Kingdom.
It is heartbreaking that a law professor is a child molester. One would think that such a learned person is not only a custodian of morality, but also of the law. Keeping children safe is therefore not away from clearly identifiable psychos.
The law in Kenya does not expressly provide for keeping children safe when they are using the internet. However, the Kenya Information and Communications Act criminalizes the use of computers to publish obscene material, assault using electronic means and access to computers with intent to commit offences. With the increase in access to computers even for young children, the government should consider legislating on cybercrime to provide for crimes which are committed using the computers and the internet.
Provision in those laws would comprehensively define what cybercrimes are, how they can be reported, investigation and evidence collection procedures, and the extent of liability when the offence is committed against a minor or an adult.
Cyber bullying is the commonest crime where children are victimized. However, a perpetrator of crimes against children may not necessarily bully them to lure them into his trap. This is mostly seen in cases where children are sexually assaulted on the internet. Predators are intelligent, usually. They use their personality to make children trust them. That’s why it is important for parents and guardians to be tactical when discussing these predators with their children. If not, the parent will come off as judgmental and old fashioned and the child will be more inclined to trust the predator.
In keeping children safe or making an attempt to keep them safe, it is also important to acknowledge that every child could be a victim and that children may not even realize that they are in danger.
How then do we keep children safe on the internet?
The most sure and effective way is to keep children away from the internet. But that may not be possible given that our children use the internet to research for their homework, and that they even have mobile handsets with which they access social media sites (whose importance to children in debatable). If they must access the internet, parental guidance controls must be in place. A child may not visit certain sites, and a parent can always monitor what the child does on the internet.
Most search engines have the provision for filtering search results to exclude any things that may contain adult content. Safe search modes should be activated on every browser that is on the child’s computer, or on a computer that the child may access.
Children should be educated on the use of computers. They should beware of the modern day stranger – everyone you meet online is a stranger. Experiences from parents whose children have been victims can be used to educate children. They should know what healthy relationships are and learn the signs of an unhealthy relationship. Children should also avoid receiving gifts from strangers.
Parents should set rules on what is okay and what is not okay on the internet. Sometimes, children need boundaries within which they can operate. Children should also be taught on what they can and cannot share online. For example, they should be taught that to share pictures of themselves naked with those they interact with online is out rightly wrong.
The government should make proper legislation which provides for how children can be kept safe on the internet. Laws making it illegal for an adult to send sexual messages to a child should be made.
The police and other law enforcers should be trained on how to gather evidence, interrogate and prosecute offenders.
For now, look out for all the children in your community. Every childhood is special and should be protected. The quality of a child’s young life determines the quality of their adulthood – something that will impact the lives of other people.
BY SAMALI BITALA
This article appears in our digital law magazine, The Deuteronomy Vol 3, Issue 2 of March 10th 2017
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