Children at the mercy of cyber-threats


Image: By Kokumo Goodie
Children at the mercy of cyber-threats

The ubiquity of information communication technology (ICT) in Nigeria and its seeming indispensibility to daily living has affected all the areas of children cognitive development including pleasure, education and health. Kokumo Goodie reports that kids online have been subjected to all manners of cyber attacks like bullying, rape, murder and kidnap, and stresses the need to protect them.

When she spoke about her experience, everybody listened to her. She recalled that her 13 year-old daughter expressed her desire to open an account with Facebook, but she objected to granting her permission. But after bowing to pressure from her to give her one of her Blackberry phones, she acquisced to her demand to open the account, but with a condition: “I must know everything about the account, that is your pass word and other account details,” she recalled. So, she kept close watch on the account, logging in and out periodically to chat, send mails, accept friendship requests and even send same. 

Franca Anaka, Nollywood actressFranca Anaka, Nollywood actress, recalled that she kept running the account on behalf of the teenager only for her to discover one day that an adult was trying to woo her by sending amorous chat messages to her.

Anaka said she kept replying the messages, complaining that she was too young for an affair and that her mum would not allow her out of doors unnecessarily, but the man persisted, teaching her the teenager the tricks to escape from home. Anaka became angered by the attitude of the man and called him to order.

Anaka told participants at the First Stakeholders’ Tech4D Forum on ICT and Child Development convened at the Lagos Sheraton Hotel and Towers by Women in Technology in Nigeria (WITIN)/ Martha Omoekpen, chairperson of WITIN, says time has come for parents and stakeholders to come and chart a way forward for the future of the youths.

Ugly scenes

Bimbo Ogoroh, computer science teacher in Abule Odu, a Lagos suburb, was also stunned when one of her female students suddenly screamed as lecture was going on in the Computer Lab. She had apparently buried her cell phone under her desk, surfing the internet while her teacher was in the class teaching.

Only 11 years old and in junior secondary school (JSS2), her “Facebook friend” had sent her the video of the dreaded Islamic fundamentalist organisation terrorising many parts of the Northern part of Nigeria, Boko Haram. They were masked and slashing the throat of one of their captors like a ram.

”She screamed unconsciously, grabbed the student next her, weeping. I was afraid but on closer examination, I discovered she was on the net, watching Boko Haram video which her friend had sent to her. I am sure she did not know what it was contained in the video,” Bimbo said, adding that she impounded the phone and later sent for her parents.

These are just a very few examples of what children go through in their daily application of ICT tools, especially the mobile phones and this has led to growing concerns on the distribution of materials targeted at children and young people making them vulnerable to child pornography, sexual abuse, harassment, exploitation, extremism, brainwashing for terrorist acts of violence and human trafficking. For obvious reasons, it has to be so.

Nigeria’s internet spread

According to reports, in the last twelve years, Nigeria has witnessed an unprecedented growth in the telecoms sector. As at end of August 2012, the country had attained 105.239 million of (fixed & mobile) active-subscriber base. Total teledensity which was less than 0.4% (0.4 lines per 100 inhabitants) in 2000 has soared to 75.17% by the end of August 2012 (using the population figure of 140 million).

At the end of February this year, telephone penetration has equally hit 69.01%, according to the regulator of the telecoms sector, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) while an expert, has even predicted that it will hit 82% by 2015. Also, the total number of mobile Internet broadband subscription is 18,538,451, an Internet penetration of about 14%.

Matthew Dawes, Managing Director of All Amber Communications, said across the continent, the mobile web and applications opportunity has continued to have profound effect on all echelons of society.

According to the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), 45% of teens in the country own a mobile phone. Since the Child Right Act defines a child as anybody under the age of 18 years, it is worrisome the rate at which children are having unfettered access to mobile phones and the unsolicited deceptive short messages service (SMS) operators send to their customers.

SMS such as: “Enjoy me wen am hot and sexy, Dis is joy,” “Missing me isn’t it. So let me take ur time” sent from 5473508378 and 573155861 respectively to subscribers by one of the operators could be misleading to the young at heart.

Since year 2000, blogging, twitting, social media, Facebook, high broadband penetration, tablets, smart-phones, inbound marketing, cloud computing (which is just starting), and Google (who changed how we search online) are factors that have revolutionised the internet.Tari Omoro of NITDA

Tari Omoro of NITDA identified a wide range of potentially negative effects of the new media. Violent content–including imitation (in the form of aggression or anti-social behavior), desensitization and fear: sexual content–including imitation (in the form of promiscuous or unsafe practices), arousal, and shock or disgust; advertising – in relation to misleading claims, as well as consumerist or materialistic attitudes are some of the dangers he identified.

Others are inappropriate or unwanted contact with others – for example, in the form of ‘stranger danger’ or bullying; health – for example to do with smoking, alcohol and drug-taking; general personality disorders, such as low self-esteem, ‘identity confusion’ or alienation; reduced time for family interaction, or relationships with peers; reduced levels of educational achievement, or reading; and mistaken values, attitudes or beliefs–for example in relation to gender or ethnic stereotyping.

He nonetheless identified benefits such as learning through watching fims, improve vocabulary and learn new languages, making a child feel more confident enhance imagination and creativity, foster parent-children relationship and a source of entertainment.

Child protection initiatives

Eugene Juwah, executive vice chairman, NCC, acknowledges these enormous challenges and said Child Online Protection initiative was launched in 2008 by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and endorsed by the UN Secretary General, Heads of State, Ministers and Heads of international organizations from around the world as an international collaborative network for action to promote the online protection of children by providing guidance on safe online behavior in conjunction with other UN agencies and partners.

Eugene Juwah, executive vice chairman, NCC

“Virtual National Security Taskforce (VNST) will be created which will work with Virtual Global Taskforce.  (VGT) is a law enforcement body which provides a 24/7 mechanism to receive reports about illegal behaviour or content from persons in the USA, Canada, Australia and Italy,  Nigeria will join this global security platform most especially for countermeasures against terrorist recruitment and online predators,” he said, adding that with the growing participation of Nigeria Child in cyberspace and the avalanche of Child Abuse Materials, there will also be a national legislation on Child Online Protection and Safety of Nigeria.

Holding back the wave ‘impossible’

Veronica Adeyemo, acting director, IT department, Federal Ministry of Information, says parents have to be realistic to note that holding back the spread of internet use among children is practically impossible.  “As a parent, one might be tempted to want to deny the child access to the internet as a means of punishment, especially those who are not convinced of its advantages,” she said, adding that parents should therefore try to focus on the behavior rather than the use of the tool itself. Veronica Adeyemo, acting director, IT department, Federal Ministry of Information

She suggested that parents should be intimate with their children to get to know his/her profiles such as address, pass word etc. on the net, assist the child to surf the net. By consistently assisting your child when he surfs the net, you will searching together for the answer to questions you both have.

Internet filters can be installed on the PC for younger children to help select and control the contents being viewed. There are some filters that can even go to the extent of using SMS messages to inform parents remotely what words their children are keying in, or even allowing them to see what their children are writing on the computer. Unfortunately finding out the best way to install and use a filter is not always easy for parent when it comes to choosing one. Adeyemo said

“What your children view on line should be appropriate for their age.  Parent’s roles should not be delegated to a filter, since there is no age when it is completely safe to use this technology; it is left to parents to assess their child’s judgment, critical faculties and level of responsibility. It makes sense to rule out any unsupervised internet use especially for younger childre,” she counselled.

Omogbadegun Zacchaeus Oni, lecturer, Healthcare/Medical Informatics Researcher, Department of Computer & Information Sciences, College of Science & Technology, Covenant University, Ota, Ogun State, said the internet is often presented as an unsafe or untrustworthy space: where children are preyed upon by paedophiles, cannibals seek out victims, offline relationships are torn apart by online affairs and where individuals are addicted to gambling, love, and cybersex, warning that while online, the opportunity to commit a crime is a few clicks away.

For Ernest Ndukwe, former EVC of the NCC and co-chair, Presidential Committee on Strategy and Roadmap for Universal Broadband Access in Nigeria, the internet has become a universal library, where books, journals, articles and other materials can be sourced right within the confines of individual’s homes in any part of the globe.

While applauding the concept of Digital Inclusion which aims to make the benefits of ICTs available to everybody, stakeholders conclude that incorporating self-regulatory and other effective policies and frameworks to protect children and young people from abuse and exploitation through the use of ICTs, into national plans of action and e-strategies is essential.

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