The government has called for concerted efforts to protect children from cyber attacks as the country races into rapid socio-economic transformation.
The call was made, yesterday, at a two-day workshop on Child Online Protection (COP) that brought together government officials, civil society players, church representatives and other representatives of the private sector to discuss useful benchmarks for children’s protection against cyber attacks.
The Minister for Youth and ICT, Jean Philbert Nsengimana, said several milestones show that Rwanda is on the right track towards ICT, reaping big fruits but also suffering the threats it carries and children have not been spared.
“We all know well that ICT is driving the progress of this country across all sectors but we are also aware of the battle we have to ensure cyber security. We recently started to examine its threats and we are devising mitigation measures. We have been working on protecting online information and now we move to COP,” he said.
“We would be wrong to think that children do not use ICT devices. From under five to 17, they access Internet mostly via their parents’ devices. So, our children are there online and we cannot deny them access but we want to protect them as we nurture them.”
Nsengimana said children are globally becoming targets of online sexual harassment, scams, and human trafficking and cyber bullying.
He added that there are no figures about online threats in Rwanda but a study will be undertaken and its findings announced before year end.
Stakeholders urged to play part
The Minister for Gender and Family Promotion, Oda Gasinzigwa, urged parents to educate their children and warn them about online content.
“We want to protect children from online threats while at the same time respecting their rights to be informed and express their views via different channels. However, parents, teachers, and the general public must play a role in increasing children’s awareness about the effects of online content,” she said.
Gasinzigwa said the country needs ICTs for various reasons, but Rwandan values must still be preserved alongside the progress made in ICT.
“Today, we jointly start a step to protect children’s rights in ICT, in addition to other measures that the country boasts in protecting children. We have adopted numerous laws and policies on the protection of children but we also want to rely on international statutes that ban indescent content to mitigate the risks,” she said.
Gasinzigwa added that an upcoming study on children’s use of ICTs will take into account the views of youngsters to inform the government policies on prevention.
The workshop was organised by the two ministries in conjuction with the National Children’s Commission, Facebook, International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and Millicom.
Eija Hietavuo, the UNICEF corporate social responsibility manager, said companies that offer Internet and the associated technologies have a responsibility to protect users.
Mercy K. Ndegwa, the GSMA policy advisor for Africa, said mobile technologies should enable children enjoy their rights, adding that 14 per cent of the African children own mobile phones while a bigger percentage use their parents’ devices with only 60 per cent of the parents controlling their children’s use of phones.
GSMA (Special Mobile Association Group) is an association that represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, uniting nearly 800 operators and more than 250 companies.
Ndegwa said educating children is the first line of action and urged ICT service providers to create a safer and age-appropriate online environment. She also called on the government to enact appropriate legislation, ensure law enforcement and to help empower all stakeholders in a child’s life.