- Written by Silvia Mwendia for KenyaKiz
A children's organisation is guarding Kenyan kids against child online abuse by raising awareness on the issue. Dubbed Watoto Watch Network, the three year old not for profit organisation informs children, parents, teachers and anyone involved in the care of children about the various issues pertaining to child online abuse.
Started initially as an organisation focusing on child abuse, Watoto Watch Network specifically branched into the online sphere after noticing a gap.
“There were already enough organisations working on the abuse of children but we noticed there was not much being done for children who are abused online so that is why we decided to go in this direction,” said Lillian Kariuki, Executive Director Watoto Watch Network.
According to UK Charity National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), online abuse refers to “ any type of abuse that happens on the web, whether through social networks, playing online games or using mobile phones.” For children, the abuse occurs in a manner of ways such as cyber bullying, grooming, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or emotional abuse.
In Kenya, child online abuse is a fairly new type of crime but one that deserves our attention nonetheless as it is becoming more commonplace.
“You will find more and more children getting phones at a younger age, some even as young as 10 years and the parents are buying them these gadgets without knowing their potential,” said Kariuki.
Having worked with various other children's organisations , Kariuki felt the need to stop the abuse before it occurred hence Watoto Watch Network was born in 2012.
“I was with other organisations working with children and when they came in already abused I felt very helpless so I wanted to do something to prevent the abuse from occurring and seeing a gap in online child protection, I decided to form Watoto Watch,” said Kariuki.
With a main aim to raise awareness, Watoto Watch teaches children, guardians and educators on a number of issues pertaining child online abuse through training, events and celebrating Safer Internet Day.
“Our most common avenue of getting information out is through trainings we hold for children, parents and teachers. Here we teach them what online abuse is, the various types, how to protect themselves and how to deal with it if it happens,” said Kariuki.
Children in Kenya are abused online today due to the younger age at which they are acquiring internet enabled technological devices. The figures become even more worrying with 42 per cent of Kenyan teenagers being said to access the internet 2-3 times a week as stated in a 2012 UNICEF report titled A (Private) Public Space that examined the use and impact of digital and social media use among Kenyan adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17. It is for this reason that Kariuki advises parents to be arm themselves with the necessary knowledge of today if they are to help their children combat child online abuse.
“From our trainings one problem we realise is that parents are not up to date with all these social media sites that their children know so well. Parents need to first learn and know these sites so that they can teach their children about the risks involved, ” she said.
Kariuki who is passionate about helping children likes to compare child online abuse awareness to sex education.
“Unless we first learn about the technology they are using and social media sites our children are visiting then we will not be able to teach them the risks involved. By so doing, we will have at least played out part,” said Kariuki.