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Is the Internet safe for children? Children face negative experiences in the digital world, yet the internet is an integral part of our lives and its use offers immense benefits.
A growing problem nowadays on the use of the internet is the violation of children’s rights, principally found on pornographic websites or social media sites and online games. Uganda is no exception to the complicated nature of child protection in cyberspace.
Internet use among children in Uganda can be greatly associated with activities like doing schoolwork assignments, social networking and online gaming. With the increased popularity of social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tiktok, e.t.c, the number of young people connecting to the internet is increasing.
Children while online are susceptible to cyberbullying, cyberstalking, revealing too much personal data, pornography and harassment to mention but a few. It is paramount for all players responsible for the upbringing of children to ensure that they are taught about online risks, how and what to do when they encounter such risks and how to make responsible decisions about their online behavior. In this global effort to make the internet safer, children are the main recipients but they are also encouraged to take an active role in these efforts. They can be encouraged and groomed to use the internet in a manner that is respectful to other users and learn how to look out for positive opportunities online.
It is important for a parent or guardian to monitor their children’s online behavior, to protect the children from becoming victims of the wrong elements on the internet. Parents can ensure that they tell their children to avoid sharing personal data with strangers in public online forums, discuss internet safety with children and encourage them to report any kind of abuse or any strange incident. Parents are encouraged to supervise their children’s use of the internet, use parental controls on the child’s devices and adjust privacy settings for sites the children normally visit.
Schools have Information and Communication Technology as a subject and they ought to put in place measures that promote responsible use of the internet. Schools are encouraged to foster an open environment in which children are confident to ask any questions and participate in engagements about the benefits and dangers of the online world. Schools should ensure that teachers have the knowledge to teach students about their safety online. Teachers should also set standards for what children can and cannot do online, teach children the importance of keeping personal information private and encourage children to report in case they encounter problems.
Policy makers have to ensure that there are policies that seek to develop awareness on the safe use of the internet. This can be achieved through putting in place policies and laws that should be strictly enforced and adhered to.
As much as schools in Uganda have Information and Communication Technology as a subject, the relevant institutions have not put in place any policies that seek to create a safe internet use for children. Some interventions have been put in place but people barely know about them. In 2015, the Government of Uganda through NITA and Internet Watch Foundation launched portal, https://report.nita.go.ug/ug for Ugandan citizens to report child sexual abuse images and videos although the link to the portal doesn’t function.
It is commendable that the government has put in place laws that seek to create a safe internet for children although there is need to have a comprehensive legal framework that can develop a culture of creating safe internet for children.
The Computer Misuse Act, 2011 provides that a person who produces child pornography for purposes of its distribution through a computer, offers or makes it available through a computer, distributes or transmits it through a computer, procures it through a computer for themselves or another person offence. The Anti-Pornography Act 2014 also prohibits pornography and makes it an offence to traffic, produce or broadcast any form of pornography.
Mindful of the challenges of enforcing the prohibition of circulating pornographic content on the internet, the Anti-Pornography Act 2014 provides that an internet service provider who permits to be uploaded or downloaded through its service, any content of a pornographic nature commits an offence and this may lead to suspending the internet service provider from doing business.
However much there are laws that seek to create a safer internet for every user, it is incumbent on us to create a safer internet for each other. It starts with you by making a decision not to harass other users on the internet especially children. Parents, guardians and teachers are encouraged to empower children to beware of the risks with the use of the internet and encourage them to report any abuses. We also urge the relevant government agencies to put in place the desired legal and policy framework that can create an environment that guarantees a safe internet to the children.
Safer Internet Day is an international event that seeks to promote responsible use of the internet by children across the world. The initiative was started by the European Union in 2004, and is now celebrated around the world as a call for promotion of a safer and responsible use of the internet.