Following the Computer Misuse and Cybercrime Act 2018, the safety of children and youth online will be more assured with proper processes and infrastructure to address cybersecurity issues.
The law, which received presidential assent on May 15, deals with offences ranging from publication of fake news, pornography, cyberterrorism, cybersquatting and child pornography. It comes at a time of growing concern over rising cases of online abuses. The punishment is jail terms of two to 30 years and fines of between Sh5 million and Sh30 million.
The 5th Africa Cyber Security Report for 2017 titled Demystifying Africa’s Cyber Security Poverty Line, was launched last month. It puts the cost of cybercrime for Kenya, with a population of nearly 50.9 million and 85 per cent internet penetration, at $210 million (Sh21 billion).
The negative impact of the internet and social media on children and young people cannot be over-emphasised.
‘Safe Online, Safe Onland’, a report by internet and digital literacy advocacy organisations MediaNet Works and the Internet Society (ISOC), attests to that. Released a day prior to the April 26 passing of the Bill, it documents the time children spend online, the kind of content they download and the social media platforms they use.
According to the report, today’s children are at a higher risk of exploitation while online than before. Mr Josiah Kaara, the lead researcher, says children and young people are being radicalised by terrorist groups and introduced to pornography via social media networks right under our nose.
“It is disturbing that although most parents, teachers and guardians are aware (of the risks), they do not keep tabs on what they (children) do online and whom they communicate with,” says Mr Kaara.
At a cybercafé in a city suburb, unaccompanied children as young as five will play computer games, watch videos and communicate online with strangers while, at home, a six-year-old will send unsolicited messages to your phone book contacts or download adult content.
The Africa Cyber Security Report says increased residential internet penetration and smartphones have “given children unprecedented access to computer and mobile technologies in the recent decades”.
While the proliferation and accessibility of the internet in Kenya is a major milestone, that has come with new challenges. Young people may be more digital-savvy than their parents or teachers but their lack of knowledge and digital safety skills can quickly get them into trouble. Some civil society organisations and government agencies have since gone on the frontline to ensure safety on the internet.
The Dark Side of the Internet, a document released recently by Terre des Hommes, a child rights organisation, reveals that online child sex exploitation is following the path of traditional offline hotspots, especially at the Coast, where sex tourism is common.
Communication Authority of Kenya’s Child Online Protection Campaign, ‘Be the Cop’, provides children and youth with information and skills for responsible internet use.
Local media have played a big role by fairly and consistently informing on fake news, especially during last year’s General Election, and highlighting social media abuse, including reporting on the social impact of internet and social media.
We need to come together to promote and encourage safe and responsible use of the internet and social media among children and youth.
Parents, teachers and learning institutions’ leaders should be encouraged to acquire the knowledge and skills on the current technological trends to be able to guide, and detect cases of children who might fall prey to online abusers.
Mr Njoroge is the CEO of MediaNet Works. [email protected]