The alarming use of the internet among young people in the country has sparked a call for action by the government and stakeholders as more children get exposed to sexual exploitation and other online forms of child abuse.
Cabinet Secretary for Labour and Social Protection Ms. Florence Bore asked state departments, parents, child protection organizations, law enforcers, and the public to join together in helping to protect children from accessing online materials that could harm them.
In her speech read out by the Secretary, Directorate of Children Services Mr. Shem Nyakutu during the Safer Internet Day national celebration at Karisa Maitha Ground Kilifi County, the CS said the mass use of the internet and new technologies has exposed children to sexual content, sexual abuse, and cyberbullying.
“Even in a loving family setting, we must acknowledge that our children are growing up in a new world with new risks, many of them driven by the internet. Globally, the scale of child sexual exploitation and abuse online is on increase,” she said.
She revealed that due to the increased internet risks exposed to children, the government through the Directorate of Children Services developed a multi-sectorial 5-year National Plan of Action to Tackle Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse 2022-2026.
“The National Plan of Action has strategic areas such as laws, prevention and strengthening response. The newly enacted Children Act 2022 upholds safeguarding of the rights of the child such as protecting children from abuse both online and offline,” she said.
The CS added that online child protection calls for urgent action because internet consumption by the young generation has reached an alarming rate.
“The shift towards children and adolescents spending more time online is accelerating, perhaps in part due to the shift to online learning during the Covid-19 pandemic. With this, the risk of online child exploitation is also rising making it ever more urgent to invest in children’s online safety and protection,” she added.
Regional Coordinator Children Services Coast Region Mr. George Migosi revealed that Mombasa Town and Mtwapa in Kilifi are the most affected by internet vices in the Coast region.
He said the Children’s Services Department has embarked on a public campaign to create awareness of the dangers of the internet and keep parents and family members vigilant on their siblings.
“Parents should be informed that the internet has its advantages and disadvantages and also tell them that they should know what their children are surfing on the internet,” he said.
Migosi said the effects of internet abuse are already being felt all over the country and pointed out incidences of suicide, sexual activities, and blind dates cultivated from social media platforms.
“The way life changes, children have been on the internet, some go to the point of committing suicide, and others do sexual things online. That is why we keep saying that we want to have an internet that defends and protects our children,” he said.
While the internet is equally important, especially in learning, Migosi said the tech creators have seen the opportunity to exploit them through content, game applications, and other computer applications.
Chief Officer for Gender, Culture and Social Services Kilifi County Government Agneta Karembo disclosed that internet safety for children has not been addressed in the County Integrated Development Plan but promised to take it up and ensure it is adopted in the plan and policies.
She added that Kilifi County has grappled with many social problems such as child pregnancies and should not allow the breeding of new problems brought by the internet and technologies to the young generation.
By Jackson Msanzu