The fight against child safety and exploitation on the Internet is far from being won.
Despite the tremendous growth and investment in ICT industry, little or no effort has been done to enhance safety and security particularly of children.
The government and the society should increase awareness on the use of ICT by children while at the same time identify emerging problems and security challenges facing children online.
The number of children accessing online services has doubled compared to four years ago. Children now have computers and Internet access in schools, homes and residential areas. But what makes child safety on the web a major concern is the rapid advancement in technology where mobile phones, which are accessible to the majority population, now come with ready Internet connection. This facilitates a window of interaction via chat options with strangers, some with criminal intensions.
But most worrying is the apparent lack of vigilance by parents, which most often is caused by ignorance on ICT.
One of the things that people often find appealing about Internet communication is the element of anonymity. Children are able to communicate with anyone. They are not limited by appearance, age or other potentially prejudicial attributes.
There are increased reports of adults having highly sophisticated conversations on the Internet, believing the person to be an adult only to find that they have been communicating with a teenager.Online conversations often become much more personal and intimate than in face-to-face communication because anonymity frees some people to speak more openly.
Extraordinarily close relationships can develop exclusively from Internet interactions.
“There are two different safety issues on the Internet. The first is what your children are exposed to, either through their own actions (entering an area that you may not want them to) or through accidental exposure,” says Yvette Kagoyire, an educationist.
She notes that the other area of concern is direct communication with your child that may be inappropriate and personal and that could, if mishandled, lead to a child revealing information that puts them or the family at risk.
Lack of policies and laws to address the protection of children in cyberspace leaves young ones in extremely volatile situation whereby the likelihood of harm continues to increase alarmingly.
The Government, duty bearers and all those who work with children should work to create a safe environment. They should be in a position to take swift action to address safety issues appropriately.
Research has shown that mobile phones are the most used technology in social networking among children followed by electronic mails.
Only about five percent of cyber cafes found within Kigali city and its suburbs display warnings on threats of pornographic materials in their premises. These public Internet access points admit persons of all ages even unaccompanied minors. Despite the caveats, they do absolutely nothing when prohibited sites are accessed.
Social networking sites such as, Iborian, Facebook, MySpace and Tweeter are extremely popular and children can interact and engage with people of all ages across the world. Through the sites children share personal information thereby making them easy targets. Such websites also feature links to other websites with harmful content.
Focus should not just be directed to the potential opportunities that the ICT industry will avail in terms of the growth and development but also to the reality in terms of the dangers that our children will be exposed to.
Parents, guardians, schools and all those who work with children need, as a matter of urgency, to increase their awareness on ICT security and use of the Internet and most importantly supervise children.
There is need to be fully observant at all times to detect the signs which might indicate that a child is being groomed, bullied or being subjected to inappropriate material. Above all, take steps to begin to protect and empower the child to deal with such dangers.