- Written by Silvia Mwendia for KenyaKiz
While on Facebook, a 13 year old girl meets a boy who she frequently starts chatting with. Little does the girl know that her online fling is a grown man. Soon after, the girl agrees to meet her lover for a date in town but what was meant to be an innocent date leaves the young teenager drugged and raped.
This horrifying shocking true story is becoming increasingly common but one Watoto Watch Network hopes to nip in the bud before it spirals out of control. Welcome to the world of child on line abuse- the dark part of the internet that our young ones are not aware of as they freely share their tweetpics, Instagram posts and snapchats for everyone to see.
Watoto Watch Network, a not for profit organisation was formed in 2012 to fill the gap of protecting children online through awareness trainings.
“As our country becomes more tech savvy with the you leading this, we noticed that children do not know the risks involved,” said Lillian Kariuki, Executive Director of Watoto Watch Network.
According to a 2013 UNICEF report-A (Private) Public Space Examining the Use and Impact of Digital and Social Media Among Adolescents in Kenya, 53 per cent of Kenyan children aged 12-17 years have experienced on line abuse through cyberbullying, defamation and spread of hateful content. These worrying figures clearly show that child online abuse is something Kenyan families need to be aware of.
According to UK Charity National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), on line abuse comes in various forms such as cyberbullying which eventually morphs into bullying.
“This is common among the younger kids on social media. Since they all go to the same school they will also be friends on social media websites like Facebook. What happens is if hateful things are said about them on line then this abuse also speads to the classroom,” said Kariuki.
Grooming is another type of child on line abuse whereby “someone builds an emotional connection with a child to gain their trust for the purposes of sexual abuse or exploitation”, states NSPCC. Groomers can be strangers or people familiar to the children and they usually start off by befriending the minors. Albeit still at a low point, grooming may be slowly gaining traction in Kenya. According to the UNICEF report, 66 per cent of teenagers between the ages of 15 and 17 years have confessed to accepting friend or chat requests online from people they do not know in real life.
Grooming may lead to child online sexual exploitation and abuse. Here the child are persuaded or forced to send sexually explicit images of themselves, participate in sexual activities via webcam or engage in sexual conversations by texting or on the internet. The 2013 report for instance states that 12 per cent of children aged between 12 and 17 years reported that they were asked to send photos of themselves whereby they were not fully dressed.
According to Kariuki, Kenyan children have also reported instances of identity theft whereby the photos found on their social media accounts are cropped and used for ulterior motives. The UNICEF report also indicates that 17 per cent of Kenyan children aged 12 to 17 years have had their accounts hacked and people pretend to be them. Others have even reported being stalked.
Despite these worrying trends, there is hope which can be found in the power of information. Kariuki advises parents to arm themselves with both technical know-how of the social media sites their children are visiting and the risks involved so that they can better educate their young ones.