Promoting digital literacy among parents and caregivers over online safety of children and families will prevent, address and respond to online cyber bullying, sexual exploitation and abuse of children in the country.
Kenya Films and Classification Board (KFCB) acting Chief Executive Officer Mr Christopher Wambua says with increased awareness among parents about modern smart technologies linked to the internet, they will be positioned to keep children and youth safe from online harm.
Mr Wambua stated that through collecting data from its classification and regulatory duties, the board realized that there was a major information gap among parents.
“We realized that children themselves know more than the parents when it comes to digital literacy and being tech savvy,” he said.
Mr Wambua noted that this becomes a big problem when it comes to protecting children when they are online.
“A study by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) indicates that two thirds of children that are online have not been taught or guided on how to consume online content appropriately. It is parents’ and teachers’ responsibility to protect them from online harm, especially as the people who are engaged the most with their children,” he added.
He disclosed that the UNICEF study had established that 17 percent of children aged 18 years had been exposed to online pornography, while 30 percent had interacted with strangers.
Speaking at Deliverance Church in Nakuru where KFCB took its Digital Parental Digital Literacy Programme (PaDiL) for parents and guardians the acting CEO observed that the migration to digital space for learning, working and digital business had exposed many to cyber bullies who use fake identities to lure children and adolescents to drugs and sexual abuse under the roof of their parents and caregivers.
He said KFCB in collaboration with Netflix, Google, Tik Tok and other stakeholders launched the program on February 7 that is geared towards empowering parents and caregivers with the necessary skills to guide children on safe and responsible use of digital platforms and creative spaces.
“Parents are buying smart devices yet they are not there to guide their children how to navigate this digital era. Technology is very important but children can veer off too strangers, being groomed or solicited for sexual exploitation and sharing nudes,” observed Mr Wambua.
He noted that while a parent can install parental control products to keep tabs on and limit child’s online exposure to inappropriate content, there are also built-in controls on most computers that parents can easily employ with just a few clicks.
“Raising awareness is important because it is the first step to vigilance and action. For example, parents should be aware of what their children see and hear online, who they meet, and what they share about themselves. But this is easier said than done,” the CEO observed.
He went on “Many parents in Africa, especially those from less educated and poor backgrounds, may not even know what cyber-bullying or online sexual exploitation is. Some may have heard of it but do not quite understand the magnitude of its potentially damaging effects,”
The Ag CEO added that the PaDiL program is designed to address lack of knowledge on standards of media content, content classification and its rationale as well deal with the challenge of limited awareness on the availability of safety tools on Video on Demand (VODs) and Over the Top (OTT) audio-visual platforms, among other knowledge gaps.
In partnership with other stakeholders, Mr. Wambua said KFCB will enhance consumer awareness among its diverse stakeholders, especially parents/caregivers on matters of digital content consumption and child online safety, besides executing its core mandate.
KFCB Chairman Njoroge Njogu noted that the state holds protection of children as one of its top priorities as enshrined in Article 53 of the Constitution that recognizes the right of all children to be protected from among others abuse, neglect, harmful cultural practices, all forms of violence, and inhumane treatment, adding that Kenya is a signatory to various international conventions that advocate for the protection of children in diverse aspects, including exposure to harmful content.
“The Government’s continued implementation of the Children’s Act is a true testament to our commitment towards ensuring the welfare of children,” the Mr Njogu added.
While recognizing the positive role of the internet and the opportunities it provides, the chairman observed that it also pose challenges for children.
“Research has shown that access to internet among children results in better learning outcomes. At a macro level, access to high-capacity or broadband internet has been found to drive economic development and in turn lead to improved living standards of citizens, including children. The resource also offers immense opportunities for entertainment and communication among the youth,” he stated
The Chairman noted that left to their own devices, children could easily fall prey to the dangers and risks that lurk on the internet such as exposure to pornographic materials to grooming and unwanted contact with pedophiles, among other risks.
“A recent study among children aged between 13 and 19 revealed that 66% of the respondents were using the internet (78% male and 22% female). It was further noted that children spent more than 20% of their time online accessing inappropriate content and connecting with strangers,” Mr Njogu revealed.
Michael Murungi, Google’s Government Affairs and Public Policy Lead in East Africa said that nothing can take the place of a parent forging a relationship of meaning, trust, and a true connection with their child.
“We understand that and in order for us to be able to enable young people to love, to learn, to explore, to discover ,to be entertained, there is a need for them to be aware of the risks that exist,’ he said.
Murungi said the path to doing that is through their parents and guardians.
“So what we’ve done is we’ve built not only safety features and products and tools into our products, we’ve also built educational tools for parents about how to create a safe environment in the home,” he said.
He said the home atmosphere is very key to online safety conversations as families.