That today’s child is hooked to the internet is not in doubt.
The sooner we accept that this all-powerful communication and learning tool is here to stay and start working on how to deal with its negative aspects as far as children, the most vulnerable group, are concerned, the better.
Lack of online security for children and mastery of protecting them is a global problem, and governments and society must keep devising ways and measures to deal with it.
These must involve constant education of children at school and home and in any other situation and forum.
Recently, I attended a mentorship forum organised by Unicef Kenya office, dubbed the Unicef News Cafe, which comprised parents, teachers, journalists, experts on children’s issues as well as a representative from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI).
Pupils from two primary schools in Nairobi County discussed how to protect themselves online.
As they spoke candidly, it emerged, thankfully, that they were aware of the dangers even as they ventured online for what most said was to “research” for mostly homework assignments and to play games.
And when asked if any of them, their friends or fellow pupils has had an encounter with online bullies, they answered in the affirmative.
At least two of them, speaking with that calmness and innocence that is unique to children, gave examples of peers who had been bullied to the point of contemplating suicide! They narrated how fellow pupils talked the victims out of it.
But the enthusiasm and interest with which the pupils consumed and embraced information on where and how to seek help and protection from online bullying said it all.
It showed the need for the government, schools, parents, guardians and non-governmental agencies that deal with matters children to do more in advocacy to protect children from the dangers that lurk online and cyberbullies who have been known to destroy the lives of children.
And most of the children said they could share their experiences with, especially, their parents whenever they came across bullying.
But they were almost unanimous on the need for them to somehow be able “to report to the government” the perpetrators of this harassment, which, to their understanding, “abuse and discourage children”, “hack internet accounts and expose children to bad images and sexual abuse”, and ‘’issue death threats and can kidnap people”.
It however emerged that the government has put in commendable efforts towards the safety and protection of children online.
The DCI’s Child Protection Unit has established a section to exclusively deal with children’s online safety and protection.
The unit investigates and deals with online-related violence, and has devised modern ways of interviewing victims without having to traumatise them further, according to an officer there.
That one such officer addressed the forum, which included the children’s parents and teachers, on online safety and protection of children is an indication of their seriousness.
The Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) — the country’s ICT regulator — actually has a publication on how to protect children from cyberbullying.
A Guide to Child Online Protection, according to the CA, is meant to create awareness on children’s safety online. It is also available online.
The comprehensive, informative and child-friendly publication is educative to both the little ones and adults.
It is a must-have for parents with tech-savvy children, teachers and agencies that deal with minors. But that will be helpful if the government ensures that such critical and useful information reaches the intended recipients.
The Department of Children Services (DCS) and other agencies must also do more in constantly getting out information not just on reporting, but also protecting children from online and other forms of violence.
Childline Kenya and the DCS operate a 24-hour toll-free telephone helpline, 116, where abuse against children, including neglect, can be reported.
Ms Rugene is a consulting editor. [email protected] @nrugene