Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Study: Cell phones risk children safety

The unmonitored use of technology is increasingly exposing youngsters to the risk of harm and violence, participants at a breakfast meeting organised by The Cradle heard on November 24, 2009. Photo/CHRIS OJOW

The unmonitored use of technology is increasingly exposing youngsters to the risk of harm and violence, participants at a breakfast meeting organised by The Cradle heard on November 24, 2009. Photo/CHRIS OJOW 

By JOY WANJA

That television set you discourage your children from watching may not be the greatest threat to their wellbeing.

Instead, the mobile phone is the gateway in introducing children to the world of cyberspace, posing a great risk to their safety, a lobby group said Tuesday.

According to The Cradle, the unmonitored use of technology is increasingly exposing youngsters to the risk of harm and violence.

According to preliminary findings of the study conducted in Nairobi and its environs involving over 400 children in schools aged between 12 and 18, the most popular device was the cell phone to gain access to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

“Only 24 per cent of children in the study reported to their parents or an authority of online or cell phone harassment,” Cradle programme manager Brian Weke told journalists during a breakfast meeting at the Hilton Hotel, Nairobi.

The study also revealed that 77 out of the 96, who had the incidences reported to them, took no action and ignored the seriousness of the matter.

Only one cyber café out of the 20 sampled, had displayed warnings on pornographic materials within their premises.

“Children reveal personal information and interact with persons of all ages worldwide, making themselves easy targets to predators,” Mr Weke warned.

Nominated MP Millie Odhiambo expressed concern over the worrying trend and called for strict measures to address the problem.

“A child can pretend he is playing games on his phone yet a 64-year old adult is grooming him for sexual abuse,” Ms Odhiambo said.

She said with the advent of the mobile phones, parents and guardians needed to also be techno-savvy in order to discern the content the children were consuming.

“Cyberspace has replaced schools, religion and parents in moulding responsible young citizens of this country,” she added.
According to Cradle, the scope of Internet crime among the vulnerable group is unknown due to lack of statistics as ICT is new in the country and its effects are yet to be extensively analysed.

However, over 3,000 schools in the country have access to the internet while the Communications Commission of Kenya estimates internet users to total 3.5 million.

The absence of legal policies and framework to address children protection in the cyberspace increases the likelihood of abductions, abuse and harassment by unknown persons.

Ms Odhiambo pointed out that she would spearhead the writing of a Cyberspace Protection Bill to safeguard the future of the country’s youngest population.

Parents, guardians, teachers and cyber café managers were challenged to monitor the sites the children accessed both at home and beyond by counselling them on the dangers of the Internet.

Exposure to pornography, sexual abuse and commercial exploitation are among the dangers the children are exposed to.

Cradle in collaboration with other partners will host a national conference next week to discuss the risks and dangers of ICT and how children can be protected from the same.

To curb the spread and control information children access via the net, Cradle in collaboration with Microsoft and the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Services will launch an ICT programme titled The Child Internet Safety and Security Awareness Programme.

CISSA will identify challenges facing children in the cyber world and create a safer environment through the adoption of tracking devices and legal laws that inhibit accessibility of harmful material ether through the phones or cyber cafes.

The theme of the conference scheduled for December 8 is Child Safety in the Internet Age and will explore chances of making the virtual space safer for all children in Kenya.

After the enactment of CISSA, cyber owners will be expected to sign agreements to control material accessed by children via internet sites and Internet Service providers put to task to set up parental controls.

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