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The Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) has unveiled an awareness campaign to enhance child online safety as it seeks to step up advocacy on responsible use of the internet.

Speaking during the launch at CA headquarters, Ministry of ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs Cabinet Secretary, Joe Mucheru, said that research had shown that children are getting onto the internet younger.

“A report by UNICEF says that, globally, a child goes online every half a second! That’s a lot of children who ideally should be nurturing their physical and mental health by playing outside with their peers, but are instead spending time in gloomy rooms trawling the internet,” said Mucheru.

The CS said there have been increased cases of cyber bullying which have resulted in lowered self-esteem for the youth, and in extreme cases, self-harm and even suicide. “We have seen some Hollywood movies normalising suicide in children; actually not just normalising but even giving some tacit encouragement to children to pursue this dangerous route,” he said.

The CS said Covid-19 pandemic has opened a Pandora’s box where some of the children who might not have been exposed to the internet had little choice than to embrace the internet as they attended virtual classes during the lockdown.

“We now live in a world where the ubiquity of the digital world is no longer in question,” Mucheru said. “Just this week, a story run by the BBC depicted how a six-year-old girl had to undergo emergency surgery after swallowing magnets to imitate tongue piercings in TikTok videos. In the US, it has been reported that teen suicide spiked after the debut of Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why,” said the CS.

Mucheru explained that closer home, although not very well documented, some children have been impacted negatively as they ape characters that they interact with through social media – be it dressing, vulgar language, explicit music and content, aggressive attitudes and many other characteristics.

“Are we as parents and guardians – be it at home, school or churches – playing our expected role to ensure that our kids are aware of the dangers posed by the internet? Are we effectively acting as the second layer of gatekeepers?” posed Mucheru.

State Department of Broadcasting and Telecommunications Principal Secretary (PS) Esther Koimett said through the National ICT Policy, they have expressed deliberate measures to ensure the aspect of safeguarding children and the youth in online spaces, is given the attention it deserves.

“Most importantly, is the focus of the policy that calls on all of us, the young and young at heart, to come up with innovative “online values” that we can instil in our children, right from the time they start interacting with technology,” said Koimett.

CA Chairman Kembi Gitura noted that cyber criminals are taking advantage of the high uptake and usage of internet to lodge attacks, citing the reported online crime that rose by 37.8 per cent to 38.7 million in the quarter ending June 2021. A majority of these threats were malware attacks, recording the highest jump of 6.9 per cent to stand at 23 million.

“Other than coming up with innovative ways to deal with cybercrime, we need to join hands in creating awareness on safe use of internet facilities. We need to empower our children, teachers and parents with the necessary knowledge and skills to effectively guide children on the use of internet services,” Gitura said.

CA Ag. Director General Mercy Wanjau said that the Authority is also partnering with the Ministry of Education and other stakeholders, with a focus on reviewing the Schools Safety Manuals to incorporate aspects of child online protection and encourage schools to facilitate a safer online experience for learners.

“We are also working with the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) to incorporate child online protection in the current competence-based school curriculum,” she said.

Wanjau said that the Authority in partnership with other stakeholders locally, developed Standard Operating Procedures for Handling Complaints, Cases and Incidents on child online protection.

“We are grateful for the insights and support of these stakeholders, which include the  Ministry of ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs, Ministry of Education, Teachers Service Commission, Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, Childline Kenya, Department of Children’s Services, Directorate of Criminal Investigation, Anti-Human Trafficking Child Protection Unit, Kenya Law Reform Commission, Office of Director of Public Prosecution, Office of the Attorney General and the Commission of Administrative Justice.

These procedures which are expected to undergo validation in November 2021 will guide the mechanisms to harmonise the handling of child online abuse complaints, cases and incidents in Kenya,” she said.

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