Online Child Protection
In the digital age, most children have access to the internet through the computer and other technology devices. According to the Communications Authority of Kenya, 87% of children and youth in Kenya, age 7-25 use the internet for social media. Covid-19 has led to closure of schools leaving online classes as the only option for studying. Video chat, social media and online gaming are ways in which children are interacting and entertaining themselves. The internet has proven to be a wonderful tool that enhances the lives of many but there are risks that come with internet usage. These risks include screen addiction, cyber bullying, loss of personal data and exploitation.
Screen Addiction: With most children being home due to Covid -19, the internet is the only place they can reconnect with their friends. However, did you know that some children can become addicted to screens? This can be quite harmful and can lead to impaired daily functioning in terms of productivity, social relationships, physical and health. Like with all addictions, when you try to correct the behavior, children who are addicted can become rebellious, defiant, belligerent and might even resort to hurting themselves to prove a point.
Cyber Bullying: This is the use of the internet to harass, intimidate or cause harm to another person. This can be done through social media and chat rooms, especially those in online games. More and more children are finding themselves in the middle of cyber bullying either knowingly or unknowingly. It is harder to watch exactly what children are doing and saying online which makes it an easy place to bully others. People often get away with saying things like you look ugly and eeeew what kind of dress is that? and much much worse; things they may not say in public. Additionally, there are challenges and memes that also target people online. Even emojis can be used as coded language to bully people online.
Loss of Personal Data: Personal data loss is a breach of security either intentional or unintentionally, destruction, loss or unlawful release of secure and confidential information. The internet is awash with criminals who have spotted windows of opportunity to strike and they are becoming better each day at hacking into people’s private information. This information can be sold in the black market and in extreme cases, used to blackmail individuals.
Exploitation: As the East African Hub, Kenya has a problem with human trafficking. Although the Kenyan Government has made great strides to safeguard its citizens and the citizens of neighboring countries against human trafficking, there is still a long way to go and the internet complicates things. In Kenya 1 in 6 people who are trafficked are children and 40% of those children are trafficked by people they know. 60% of people trafficked are for labor and 20% are sexual. Oftentimes, children are lured into inappropriate relationships with traffickers because they prey on vulnerabilities with promises of love, attention and/or riches and popularity. Traffickers are able to do this by learning about children through their online comments. For example, if someone makes a social media post saying “everyone thinks i'm so ugly” a predator can respond with “no, I think you are beautiful!” and so the relationship begins.
You might be thinking, it's time to stop allowing my children to use the internet with all these dangers out there! but that's not realistic. There are different measures that can be taken to mitigate the risk of online use and protect children from harm.
MEASURES TAKEN TO PROMOTE ONLINE CHILD PROTECTION.
1. Lead By Example
You would be surprised what your children are learning from you. If one day they pick your phone and see that the last thing you were watching on YouTube was violent, adult content, they will think it is ok to watch. If your children see you posting profanity on Facebook, they will think it is ok to speak to people in a derogatory manner online. If you spend hours on your computer and your phone, giving little time for your family, your children will do the same.
2. Set Limits Screen Time
Children should be encouraged to perform activities that do not involve screen time as much as possible. Remember screen time includes watching TV and playing on devices like phones, ipads and tablets. Children under the age of 2 should have very limited screen time which can include speaking with family members over facetime, skype or WhatsApp. Children between the age of 2-5 can have an hour of screen time daily. Children over the age of 5 should be limited to two hours of screen time daily. As children get older, especially during COVID-19, screen time may increase due to online learning and board children looking for things to do. Just be mindful of how much time is being spent in front of the screen and look for signs of screen time addiction such as not wanting to spend time doing activities they once loved in exchange for time in front of a screen.
3. Discuss Online Safety Measures with them.
It is never too early to start having age appropriate conversations with your children about the dangers of online use. Speak with your children and educate them early about how to properly engage online. Remind them that like in real life, don't talk to strangers and never compromise themselves. Explain to them that anything posted online is permanent and can never fully be deleted. Show them what security features are and explain why they are important.
4. Use Parental Controls and Kid-Friendly Search Engines
Parental controls are useful in monitoring and restricting access to illicit and harmful content. With modern technology, we have smart televisions and most shows on are password protected. For example on Netflix, one can create accounts for a specific audience. Additionally, there are different kid safe sites and search engines such as kidtopia, kiddle, kidinfo, kidzsearch and google scholar for the teenage children. Though we cannot guarantee 100% that your children will not find a way to access inappropriate content, this is a useful measure to reduce access.
5. Boost your network and computer defenses.
A virtual private network (VPN) connects remote users to a company or home network. It secures private networks using encryption and other security mechanisms to ensure that only authorized users can access the internet and that data cannot be intercepted by online thieves prowling on unsecured networks. It allows masking of IP addresses and your child’s location can’t be traced nor can vital information be intercepted. Include anti malware applications on their gadgets too and be the owner of the Duo multifactor authentication of their email accounts.
6. Know who your children are talking to
As a parent or guardian, you should know who your children are interacting with in person and online. They should beware of strangers, even online, and feel comfortable coming to you if something does not seem right in the communications they are having, without fear of getting in trouble. They should understand that strangers offering gifts and wanting to meet in person is inappropriate.
7. Know your children’s internet usage.
It is important to know what technology your children are using and for younger children, you should know their account details. If possible, keep computers in a central location in the house so your children know that you can see what they are doing online without spying. Become friends with your child on social media, not only so you can see what they are posting but also so they have an incentive to behave since parents are “watching”. Finally, ensure your children turn off location services and change their passwords from time to time to prevent hacking and identity theft.
The internet is both a useful and dangerous place. It is important that everyone in the household is involved in ensuring children are using technology properly and understand the potential risks. Be involved and make them comfortable to share their online lives with you.
If you have any questions on the risks your children face when engaging online or need more information on how to safeguard your children you can contact SheHacks KE at firstname.lastname@example.org or Lady Askari at email@example.com
If you know someone who has been a victim of exploitation, you can call the police hotline at 999 or contact the DCI Anti– Human Trafficking & Child Protection Unit Located at the SOUTH C DCI ACADEMY Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Toll-free number: 116 or 112