In The New Times newspaper of Thursday July 30, Betty Mukashema, a teacher of Kagarama Secondary School wrote an article expressing concern over our tradition and culture in relation to the one laptop per child.
She further referred to an incident where children, after surfing child pornography, engaged in a similar sexual act. Her views were well expressed and I feel this incident, is an eye opener to the task before all of us in this e-age.
Although I do not entirely agree that computers lessen the effectiveness of children to learn; I would agree that computers take away the desire to memorise information.
Without a doubt projects such as the one laptop per child offers great benefits such as learning computing skills and furthermore, the internet avails latest information which enhances intellectual abilities, entrepreneurial skills and several other advantages at incredible speeds.
However, like all new innovations and inventions, benefits do not come without challenges. Consequently, in order to fully enjoy the benefits provided by the internet, we must also manage its challenges.
Children with unrestricted access to the internet are at risk of exposure to pornography. Pornography is freely available on the internet!
As we encourage children to use computers at schools and homes, there is need to protect them from the real danger of pornography. Accordingly, a good appreciation of the dangers of pornography is necessary in effectively dealing with them.
The term pornography usually refers to sexually explicit images in form of pictures, photographs, videos to mention but a few.
A more dangerous development is what has been termed as ‘child pornography’ or ‘child porn’. This depicts children in sex acts which are cast on the internet in form of photographs, videotapes, magazines, and films.
Child pornography is one of the biggest concerns for countries around the world. Some studies indicate that 20% of all internet pornography involves children.
Unfortunately, this is what unscrupulous porn industries are capitalizing on to grow their businesses. Consequently, the percentage of child porn materials is likely to soar.
Unsuspecting children, who do not have restricted access to porn sites, are more likely to copy what they see their peers doing, as Betty reported. These acts are not only extremely abusive to children, but are capable of corrupting the moral fabric of our communities.
There are studies that have been done to show the effects of pornography on children.
I will attempt to discuss a few;First and foremost children learn a very dangerous message; ‘sex without responsibility’ is acceptable and desirable. This is therefore likely to lead to an increase to the risk of STD, early pregnancies among children to mention but a few.
Another study indicates that early exposure to porn is related to greater involvement in deviate sexual malpractices such as rape, and homosexuality.
Studies further suggest that such exposure can prompt children to act out sexually against younger, smaller and more vulnerable children.
Furthermore, pornography introduces children prematurely to sexual sensations which they are unprepared for developmentally.
This can be confusing, overly stimulating for children and a very difficult addiction to overcome, something that occurs even among adults!
In a study of convicted child molesters in United States, 77% admitted to the habitual use of pornography in the commission of their crimes. Among the more technologically advanced countries, the internet has provided pedophiles (adults attracted to children sexually) an avenue to lure their victims.
This is done through distribution of pornographic pictures to demonstrate to their victims what they want them to do, lower a child’s inhibitions and communicate to the unsuspecting child that a particular sexual activity is okay.
More often than not, such communication takes place in chat rooms (an interactive, online discussion by use of a keyboard). The victim, a child, is engaged in a sexually explicit and stimulating conversation.
There have also been reported incidents of pedophiles in less technologically advanced countries for example South Africa and Kenya. In some reported incidents, pedophiles have traveled all the way from developed nations as tourists, to get to their victims.
How can this be addressed? “Prevention is better than cure!” Preventive measures such as restricted or supervised access to internet would be more effective in fighting against undesired effects of access to internet.
The way to deal effectively against child pornography is through a shared responsibility among the parents, educators, government, and the private sector especially the internet service providers.
However, I believe that parents have the greatest role to play because it is more likely that unsupervised use of internet will occur in homes than in schools.
There are a few suggestions to parents and others looking after children.
Computers or laptops should always be placed in areas where the children’s activities can be easily monitored.
Children should never be allowed with computers connected to the internet in the bedrooms. Parents can also make use of controls/filtering or monitoring tools to block access to dangerous sites and activities.
It is very important to establish online rules and agreements with children about internet use. This can be in form of restricted amount of time children spend on computers.
Excessive use of the internet especially at night is usually a sign of trouble .Children need to be reminded that internet use is a privilege not a right. In addition, children ought to be made aware of dangers associated with chat rooms and to them at all costs.
Children should also be instructed never to accept an invitation to a face to face meeting with someone they have met online.
National governments have the ongoing responsibility for developing laws, policies and national strategies which will ensure the safety of and protection of children using the internet.
In the East African region, Kenya is the only country that criminalises online child pornography.
The sexual offences act of Kenya criminalises the sell, hire, distribution, public exhibition, and circulation, production of any obscene drawing, painting, art, representation, figure or object depicting the image of a child. The offence carries a penalty of 7 years imprisonment without the option of a fine.
Other countries have imposed requirements on internet service providers to report evidence of children pornography to law enforcement.
In addition, the police are being trained and equipped to deal with this new kind of phenomenon.
Crimes committed over the internet are a challenge to prosecute; especially where a perpetrator is in a country different from where the crime is committed.
Consequently, the International Community through various efforts and initiatives is promoting cooperation among countries to harmonize laws and above all ease the process of extraditing criminals.
All said and done, nothing beats the role parents and teachers play in managing the enormous challenge associated with use of the internet.
The writer is a mother and holds a Masters in ICT Law.