Mtoto News send out the above tweet. Their tagline is to make children visible. When they warn you that your child is two steps ahead of you, you better believe them. They know. If you want to test your knowledge further, have a look at the apps listed in the image and see what you know about them. How many of these have you interacted with directly? How would you know if your child was on any of these platforms? How have you equipped your child for the online world?
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If there was ever a time when Kenyans needed to interrogate children’s activities online, that time is now. This is assuming, of course, that you can keep up with their tech-savviness.
Exposure is Everywhere
Imagine your child signing up for some random app, perhaps based on what they have heard from their friends. Before long, they are asked how old they are and whether they would like to make some pocket money. Imagine your child disappearing? And eventually you find her pictures on some random website and you are forced to ‘purchase’ her back because she was trafficked?
Before the authorities in the US took down Backpage.com, a major classified advertising website, it had been accused of enabling prostitution and sex trafficking of minors.
This is not even about imaginations and fallacies. Check Point released a study indicating that kids were exposed to a malware that displays porn ads in game applications found on Google Play Store. I wrote about it here.
The gist of this article, however, is something even more alarming.
“Some cybercafés in Kenya provide private back rooms that are not restricted and anyone, including children, can enter as long as they can pay”
This is according to Angela Nyamu, Country Manager Kenya with Terre des Hommes, Netherlands.
A study to be released on Thursday by Terre des Hommes suggests that children are involved in live streaming of sexual acts, which takes place in private residences as well as through the unregulated Cybercafé industry.
It is a pervasive practice, adults preying on vulnerable, impressionable young minds. Poverty, especially in Kenya’s Coastal region, pushes some children to the dark web, looking to earn their keep. The stream of tourists frequenting the region, drawn by the magical sandy beaches has, unfortunately, been fertile ground for child exploitation to thrive.
Many parents and guardians are oblivious to the dangers that lurk online. Often, engaging in discussions around online safety from a safe distance, as if it cannot be something that affects them directly. Others do not even know exactly what the internet is about.
When stories about online bullying, online sexual exploitation emerge, they rarely get the kind of attention they deserve. Perhaps because we imagine this to be an interruption on our otherwise good life. These conversations, because they make us uncomfortable, we quickly sweep them under the rug and assume them to be the responsibility of ‘others’. Truth is, online safety is our collective responsibility.
I tried several of the above apps. On Omegle.com landing page, I was greeted by one of their selling points, “Like Omegle, our video chat allows you to meet new people and stay anonymous. Enjoy candid conversations and flirts with no strings attached.”
I have no doubt in my mind what it means to stay anonymous online. I have doubts however about the intention of children, defined in Kenyan law as anyone below the age of 18, would be seeking to be anonymous in their dalliances with strangers.
I am a user of Instagram so I know where that goes unchecked.
I did not try Snapchat. After I read this article I decided it was too harmful to me to even bother signing my name on it.
A report set to be released this week by Terre des Hommes Netherlands will detail how online predators hunt their prey through a,
“Live chat session and how most Online predators try to gradually seduce their targets through attention, affection, kindness, and even gifts, and often devote considerable time, money and energy to this effort”
Kenya Computer and Cybercrimes Bill of 2017 currently before The House should provide some reprieve.
On child pornography, the bill stipulates that,
A person who, intentionally,
a) publishes child pornography through a computer system;
b) produces child pornography for the purpose of its publication through a computer system;
c) or possesses child pornography in a computer system or on a computer data storage medium,
…..commits an offence and is liable, on conviction, to a fine not exceeding twenty million ($20,000) or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding twenty-five years, or to both.
There are instances where the law has come to the rescue of children. However, we have a duty to protect ALL children from being trapped in the dark web through online sexual exploitation