Protecting children from sexual exploitation and abuse online | #childpredator | #onlinepredator | #sextrafficing

Monday, September 25th, 2023 04:20 | By

Some of the children who attended the sensitisation programme. PHOTO/Jasmine Atieno

Nedi Ivona, a 17-year-old student at Bunyore Girls High School in Vihiga, has had a cell phone since she was 12.

The gadget was a gift from her parents so she could have control over her social life. As soon as Nedi received the phone, she immediately installed applications, such as WhatsApp and Instagram. Little did she know what awaited her.

“It was wild. There were young people my age and some that I knew, but there were also adult strangers who started asking me for nudes. I was afraid of talking to my parents about what was going on, because they would have taken away the phone. So, I decided to be quiet, and just not respond when people like that were talking to me,” intimates the teenager.

Another teenage student, Edwin Mathias, from Mariakani Boys High School, Kilifi, shares that while he had not experienced sexual predators on his social media accounts, he has heard a lot shared by his peers. “I have a phone, but my father bought it specifically for my school work, not social media.

So, I don’t spend that much time on social media. I use my gadget for research. But I do hear from my friends at school and even home, who have faced sexual harassment on the Internet,” shares Mathias.

As the world becomes more of a humongous village due to Internet connection, internet privileges to children have also led to an all-time rise of Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (OCSEA). OCSEA refers to all child sexual abuse crimes that are committed using Information Communications Technology and/or the Internet.

How it happens

The sexual abuse and exploitation can happen either online or offline, but with help of the Internet. Simply put, OCSEA refers to all acts of a sexually abusive and exploitative nature carried out against a child that have, at some stage, a connection to the online environment.

OCSEA can manifest in different ways, including showing pornographic videos and images to children as part of grooming them. Also, luring children online and trafficking them for sexual abuse and exploitation, use of social media and online gaming platforms by predators to meet, groom, and abuse children and adolescents.

Another way is using pop-up pornographic images, GIFs and sex videos on different social media platforms. Online predators notoriously target and ask children to take naked pictures and share them on social media platforms.

In a move towards ending online child sexual exploitation and abuse, Child Fund Kenya hosted a two-day event, to sensitise teachers and students from Mombasa on emerging trends and online child protection.

The event targeted school going children, most of who are already users of the Internet, to warn them on the dangers and threats lurking on the different social media platforms and how they can respond to such attacks and threats while also providing toll free lines they can report cases of sexual abuse to.

Children’s Officer Joel Kirama applauded this move by Child Fund Kenya. “In order for us to battle and win against online sexual child exploitation and abuse, we have to be aware of the different methods they are using to commit these crimes,” Kirama explained.

On his part, John Ngoti, Programme Officer, Childline Kenya said some of the trends used by online predators, include virtual reality, chatrooms and cameras.

“When it comes to virtual reality, child predators will often use ‘Simulation sex’ sites, which allow users to choose their avatar (human or non-human) and can interact with other users’ avatars in virtual worlds with varying degrees of fantasy (virtual sex in virtual worlds). The second one is through chatrooms: Free text chatrooms are where users can interact with each other over the Internet without having to register.

And lastly, availability of self-generated exploitation material (SEGEM)- Cameras (2D and 3D) which are now affordable to consumers and are used as webcams for ‘camgirls’ for interactive live streaming pornography,” shared Ngoti.

Legal provisions

Section 22(3) of the Children’s Act 2022 makes provision for children’s protection from abuse and includes subjecting a child to psychological abuse or any other form of child abuse including through any computer system, network or through communication technology, for the purpose of grooming, soliciting, transmitting, harassing, exploiting children through online abuse that occurs online through social networks, online games, use of mobile phones or electronic devices will be guilty of an offence and upon conviction will be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years or to a fine of not more than Sh2 million or both.

The law further provides that online abuse, includes cyber bullying, grooming and solicitation, cyber enticement, cyber harassment and cyber stalking.

Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act and Data Protection Act also protects a child against child pornography and misuse of a child’s personal data while online.

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