Parents Tipped on online child protection

Counties Crime Editor's Pick Kisumu

Getruda Akomo, 45, (not real name) is a worried single mother of five children from Kisumu Central Sub-County. Her eldest son, Tony Masumbuko (also not real name), a 15-year-old boy is a victim of child pornography and sexual extortion which are some of the manifestations of Online Child Sexual Exploitations (OCSE).

 

“I bought Tony a smart android cellphone to help him finish his school assignments and ease of communications between us,’’ said Getruda, an omena vendor in one of the fish markets.

 

She laments that recently a stranger called her and demanded Sh. 200,000, failure to which he threatened to release explicit inappropriate audio and videos of her son through all the social media platforms.

 

This, she adds, has exposed her young family to great risk and an untimely financial danger. “I didn’t have that kind of money to pay the caller neither did I know the right steps of action to take to address the situation,” Getruda worryingly explained as she revealed that in recent months Tony had been behaving strangely.

 

It is against this backdrop of several such OCSE cases that Childline Kenya organization in partnership with Terre des Hommes Netherlands (TdH-HL) and the Directorate of Children Services held a sensitization meeting in Kisumu County.

 

The programme organized under the auspices of the theme, ‘Safety for Children and their Rights OnLine (SCROL)’ targeted teenage parents, Community Peer Volunteers (CPV), Community Health Volunteers (CHVs) and Community Health Extension Workers (CHEWSs) from the Lakeside County.

 

It aimed at educating and creating awareness among the key players on the SCROL program’s scope, mandate and desired results while establishing a strong foundation for effective and efficient programme implementation.

 

Davis Wita, who is well versed about OCSE and the event’s facilitator informed that these are crimes committed using Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) and/or with the intention to facilitate sexual abuse of children.

 

“OCSE manifests itself in so many ways through online grooming for sexual abuse, live streaming of sexual abuse, sexting, and Child Sexual Abuse Materials (CSAM),” Wita emphasized.

 

In this way, he reiterates that CSAM includes Child Pornography and Sexual Extortion which affects a person who can’t give consent and is below the age of 18 under the Children’s Act.

Wita elaborates that child pornography involves images showing a child engaging in or a child is depicted/portrayed as being engaged in explicit sexual activity or age-inappropriate activity.

 

“Sexual Extortion is a form of blackmail in which sexual information or images are used to extort sexual favours from the victim (sextortion),” he clarified.

 

Some vulnerable groups affected by OCSE may include orphaned children, children staying with extended family and relatives (including step-parents), children of single parents, children from homes where parents are very poor, and children with disabilities.

 

He also pointed out that street urchins, children without sufficient parental supervision or those whose parents are drunkards, and those with unmonitored internet access are susceptible to sexual exploitation.

 

“As a parent, I was shell-shocked when I was informed by a strange caller that my son has been ‘striping naked for him’ through a recorded video chat and was very traumatizing,” Getruda forlornly said.

 

According to Wita, the tell-tale signs OCSE parents should look out for are self-isolation, which involves spending a lot of time on the internet, becoming increasingly secretive around their use of new technology, inability to openly converse on their online activity, developing more attachment to their cell phones and more concerned if someone else picks it up or wants to look at it.

 

The notable social changes are developing a pattern of leaving the family home for a long period of time without proper explanation, vague talk of newly-found friends with less information, and spending lots of time secretly chatting with new buddies online.

 

The guardians and caregivers are further advised to look for sudden emotional changes, unexplained personality changes and mood swings, spontaneous outbursts of anger, irritation and self-harming activities.

 

The 3-year programme launched on February 7, 2023, is focused on a goal to have all Children regardless of gender, class, religion, ethnicity and abilities, protected from Online Child Sexual Exploitation in a safe family and community environment through the proactive and collaborative engagement of policymakers and child protection systems, judiciary, law enforcement agencies and private sector.

 

The SCROL programme aims to prevent and reduce the prevalence of OCSE and will be implemented in Nairobi (Kibera, Dagoretti), Kisumu (Central) and Kilifi (North) counties in Kenya, as well as in Cambodia, Nepal and the Philippines in Asia.

 

A recent study report, ‘Disrupting Harm In Kenya,’ published in 2021 by a consortium of organizations (Safe Online initiative, ECPAT, INTERPOL and UNICEF Office of Research) found that 67% (14.7M) of children aged 12-17 in Kenya are internet users.

The researchers, however, report that two-thirds of internet-using children have not been taught how to stay safe while engaging in the online space.

 

The findings depict that less than 5% of children who were subjected to OCSE in 2020 had formally reported it to the police or a national helpline. Out of these, 7% had been offered money or gifts in return for sexual images or videos, and 4% had been threatened or blackmailed online to engage in sexual activities.

 

Unknowingly, the released report noted that 7% of children had had their sexual images shared with others without their consent, knowledge and permission.

 

Christoncia Okoth, Childline Kenya officer said that the effects of OCSE on children are psychological (Anxiety, depression, addiction, low self-esteem, self-harm, eating disorders, suicide), physiological (pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, weight loss, self-harm, general ill health) and social (isolation from friends and family, difficulty developing and maintaining relationships, avoiding certain places and people.

 

The participatory forum held on Tuesday advised the parents and guardians on OCSE prevention tips like helping children to understand their bodies and sex appropriately for their age and develop an open and trusting relationship.

 

“It’s crucial to teach children to respect family boundaries, such as privacy in sleeping, dressing and bathing, teaching them self-respect and how to say no, and monitoring internet, mobile and television use,” Christoncia stressed.

 

The SCROL programme seeks to empower 9,000 children (girls and boys) to access the internet safely and to equip 1,200 caregivers with online safety technical skills to aid them in monitoring and regulating children online.

 

To address these gaping loopholes, the SCROL programme will engage 480 private sector actors to adopt safety measures to protect children online, and to do capacity building on 270 Government actors including law enforcement agencies on child-friendly approaches to OCSE prevention.

 

“Through a multi-stakeholder integral approach, we can strengthen our collaborative engagement, create protective systems and frameworks for children and ensure that they are effectively protected by the legal system,” emphasized Magdalene Wanza, Country Director, TdH-HL in a statement issued during the launch.

By Rolex Omondi

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