By Kola Olusola
Cynthia Osokogu, killed by “friends” she met on the Internet
It is an acceptable fact all over the world that children are a nation’s most valuable assets. They represent the bright future of any country and hold the key for a better nation. In view of their state, children are also the most vulnerable members of society that constantly need protection against the fear of crime and from becoming victims of crime. With the invention of the Internet, which can be said to be the greatest invention of man in recent times. Learning and information access by our children has been greatly enhanced.
While the Internet and the digital world undoubtedly present fantastic educational opportunities for school children, it is equally clear that there is a real probability for children to be at risk by their exposure to material and/or individuals, which may be harmful.
With the rapid evolution of Internet technology and resultant Internet access via mobile phones and camera phones, there is the ever increasing need by government authorities and in particular parents to understand that access to the Internet is becoming increasingly diverse and a veritable source of unfettered cross-cultural knowledge exchanges with a higher risk of children exposure to exploitation and harm by computer-sex offenders and other criminally minded individuals. It is our view that all stakeholders should step up and be part of crusade for online protection of students.
At the government level there is the need to strengthen our laws such that they will be specifically directed at online protection of students just as Child Online Protection Act 2000 of the USA (COPA), and the Australian examples where government is offering free filters under the National Filter Scheme. This activity is handled in conjunction with The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) the equivalent of our Information Ministry/NCC.
The present Nigerian law on ICT infrastructure seems to lay greater emphasis on email scammers rather than a wholesale protection of school children. Furthermore, states and Federal Government education ministries/authorities should develop and enforce schools Internet usage policies for public and private schools.
At the individual level, parents should adopt some steps to protect their wards online such as:
• Education on responsible and healthy Internet usage by their wards.
• Installation of Internet filters/control software. These are technical devices, located on a PC or a server or at the level of an Internet service provider, to restrict the distribution of certain kinds of material over the Internet, with features for blocking visit to unwanted sites and chat rooms and file sharing sites.
• Ensuring that computers are placed in the family room or another open area of the home such that the screen is easily visible when passing by.
• Discuss and publish Family Internet Usage Safety rules and post it by all computers after reviewing it with each child.
• Endeavour to know what the children are doing online as Frank Olise used to ask, “It is 9.00clock Do you know where your children are?”
Parents should monitor online activities of their children by:
• Reviewing Internet browsing history. For most Web browsers, parents can assess this by holding down “Ctrl” key and pressing “H” at the same time or clicking on the History button on the web to view web pages visited by the children.
• View report generated by Internet filters with such monitoring features, which cannot be erased by tech savvy children as can be done on web browser history.
• Developing the idea of surfing together, especially with younger children to learn how they use the web and use the opportunity to teach them ethical use of the Internet.
Overall, parents should educate themselves generally about online safety issues. There are many family-friendly sites online that offer a lot of tips on parental guidelines e.g. www.safeinternett.org.
Lastly, lead by example. Children are very observant and watch parents a lot. It has been established that many kids’ first pornography exposure is through their parents’ materials. Parents have the responsibility to keep their wards from being exposed to pornographic or sexually provocative materials either through magazines, TV or the Internet.
At the schools and public library levels, similar measures should be taken, particularly adopting Internet usage policies and use of Internet filters. Schools have become the universal location where young people are learning about ICT and the Internet.
There is no gainsaying the fact that, schools should have an important obligation to help young people learn to use the Internet in a safe and responsible manner regardless of the presence or absence of any kinds of protective technologies.
The statistics of pornographic abuses with children between 12-17 years that are now said to be largest consumers and ‘curator’ of Internet pornographic materials, particularly by teenagers is frightening.
The best way to promote the safe and responsible use of the Internet is to ensure that teachers are prepared to lead students on exciting, educationally enriching learning “adventures” on the Internet. When the computers are being used for such activities, the opportunity for misuse is significantly limited.
Our teachers too need to be empowered through training and awareness about this ‘sacred’ function they need to perform in the new digital training environment era. Failure of which will result in dangerous and violent lifestyle that is being witnessed in Europe and America. In an era of ever-dynamic digital age, delayed action by various stakeholders could be disastrous.
• Olusola is Programmes Director, Social Media at Institute for Work and Family Integration and founder, Safe Internet Initiative Nigeria. He wrote this to mark Safe Internet Day.
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