, NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 24 – As Internet usage in Kenya experiences exponential growth with over 3.5 million users, concerns are now emerging that an increasing number of children are being exposed to harmful sexual and pornographic data.
Children’s Foundation CRADLE says that mobile phones are mostly used to access internet services with over 18 million people in Kenya – including children – having access to internet enabled handsets.
“We are very quick to provide parental control when our children are watching inappropriate movies on television but little do we know that they get access to worse content through the mobile phones,” CRADLE Program Manager Brian Weke said.
He added that the current Kenyan laws did not adequately identify emerging challenges such as children’s exposure to pornography.
“The Children’s Act does not have explicit mention of issues to do with Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) and child protection. If you look at the Sexual Offenses Act there is only a small section on pornography which of course does not adequately deal with such cases,” he said.
Microsoft Africa Initiative consultant Sam Tabrizi added that there was urgent need to monitor what children were accessing on the Internet.
“The speed at which our ICT is growing is much faster than anybody anticipated. The effects of the policies you develop today will be seen 30 years from now. You cannot wait 30 years to act. The world we see today is as a result of what was done 30 years ago. We cannot wait until 50 percent of the population is using ICT for us to take action; time to act is now,” he stated.
Mr Weke also explained that CRADLE had commissioned a Rapid Assessment Report to develop comprehensive and strategic information regarding the access and use of ICT by children to determine the emerging challenges.
Harassment, intimidation and exposure to sexually suggestive or inappropriate materials on the Internet through mobile phones were the highlights of the report which also indicated that mobile phones were the most used technology in social networking among children followed by the use of e-mails.
“Only 24 percent of the children who took part in the study reported cases of abuse to their guardians. Out of 20 sampled cyber cafés in Nairobi’s Central Business District and estates only five percent had displayed warnings on pornographic materials within their premises,” he observed further adding that this showed a lack of social responsibility for children by most cyber café managers.
Mr Tabrizi also called on the media not to undermine the power it had in influencing and facilitating change in society.
“I think that our colleagues in the media downplay how much power they have. If you look at governance in other countries you realise there is a clear correlation between how government functions and human development index; the better the government the better the development. Then if you look at good governance and the media you see a clear correlation; the government is held more accountable when the awareness is created and highlighted by the media.”
Mr Weke noted that underage children were being groomed into harmful sexual behavior with the increasing use of internet use.
“Some of the people in these social networking sites coach children into taking up sexual activities. It could be through exposure to pornography, harassment and intimidation which is called cyber bullying,” he stated.
Nominated Member of Parliament Millie Odhiambo called for a joint effort among all Kenyan citizens saying that it would take concerted effort to effectively control the harmful data accessed by children on the Internet.
“A child can pretend he is playing games on his phone yet he is engaging in inappropriate conversations with a 60 year old. We must all work together to deal with this issue proactively before it gets out of hand,” she said.
She also noted that the draft Constitution had positive elements which took charge of children’s rights and held perpetrators of child rights accountable.
“So far from my reading of the draft Constitution there is a lot of positive provisions in relation to children and there is a whole section relating to the Bill or rights for children that protects all children equally including those born out of wedlock as well as the issue of acquisition of citizenship for children who only have one Kenyan parent,” she explained.
Ms Odhiambo advised parents to be techno savvy in order to keep up with the advancements that would help them discern the entertainment content that their children were consuming.
“Cyberspace has replaced schools, religion and parents in moulding responsible young citizens of this country and we can no longer sit back and refuse to show interest in some of the technologies that are coming up,” she said.
The advisor for poverty, social and economic rights at CRADLE Jeff Maganga observed that the Internet had good and bad attributes stating that its access by children needed to be regulated.
“Drugs take people to rehabilitation centers but they are also used to treat cancer; it is totally dependent on the context and that is where the internet is also. It can be a positive force and a negative one. But in the context of drugs we have pharmacists who play the role of gatekeeper. Overtime that is what we should be doing,” he observed.
The non-governmental organisation in Kenya also released a report in October raising alarm over growing sexual abuse of children. The report by CRADLE showed that sexual abuse cases in children continued to rise, two years after the enactment of the Sexual Offences Act with children taking up 73 percent of all reported cases.
According to the report, 79 percent of girls between the ages of 13 and 15 years and 21 percent of boys in the same age bracket had been sexually abused. The most common forms of abuse included: defilement, sodomy, incest, sexual assault, child pornography, defilement of mentally impaired children and child sexual exploitation.