||Sex Abuse Fears As 1 Million Kids Go Online
||Monday, November 21, 2011
Electronic and Mobile Government, ICT for MDGs, Citizen Engagement, Internet Governance
||Dec 01, 2011
To her parents at home and teachers at school, Brenda is just a quiet and bright 14-year-old girl who has just been promoted to senior three. However, to her "friends" on facebook, social network, she is 18-year-old Ron Kleiser who is engaged to 'T'Mwidu and is interested in men.
Brenda's story is one of thousands of Rwandan children who browse the internet daily and indulge in more dangerous things online.
This is probably what President Paul Kagame did not anticipate in 2009 when he launched the "One Child One Laptop" computer program that aims to impart computer skills to Rwandans at an early stage.
"Our goal is to continue finding means and ways to provide all primary school children in Rwanda with this important learning tool," the president said then.
To date, about 75,000 children in P4-P6 from over 120 schools have laptops that will have internet access next year. The impact of this unlimited access to internet to children already browsing social and dating networks will see policymakers return to the drawing board to find ways of protecting children from online sexual abuse.
For example, even with limited access to internet, Brenda has over 600 friends on Facebook, most of whom are men as old as her teachers, and are interested in 'Ron Kleiser' as a girlfriend thinking that she's of age!
Nkubito Bakuramutsa, the coordinator of "One Child One Laptop" project acknowledges that there are real challenges in protecting children from adverse use of the internet.
"We should all support the role of technology in education. Everyone - the community, teachers and parents - should work together in ensuring that children don't misuse the computer as a learning tool in order to avoid some of the vices that may come as a result of exposure," he said.
He however does not rule out cases of a few "stubborn" children that are bound to disregard instructions and end up abusing the facilities.
"Stubborn children who disobey instructions will always be there, but those will be few. What we need to do is give proper training to schools and members of the community to be able to offer corrective and preventive guidelines to avoid misuse," Nkubito added.
Frank (not real name because he is a minor) of Remera will provide a good example. At just eleven years and in P5, he has already amassed over 400 face book friends of all walks of life. He uses the picture of Lil wyne, a popular American rapper, probably to conceal his identity. He claims to be 18, single and interested in Women.
Frank is for example a daily customer at a café in Remera where he buys one hour of airtime and sits on a computer at the extreme corner. What he does there for an hour, only he and God know.
"He is normally on Facebook or reading celebrity gossip websites," says Cliff, the attendant.
Mustapha, a computer trainer at the Cyber Impact Vie centre in Remera says over 90% of their clients browse the Facebook website. These include students below 18 who he says account for almost 40%.
"Almost everyone is on face book, some buy more than one hour just chatting with their face book friends, viewing pictures of girls and men. I think some of them are addicted," he said.
"I love surfing the net, I chat and meet new friends, I feel free when on line, it's like travelling," says 15-year-old Leticia Aberika who has just written her form-three examinations.
Since 2009 when she first joined face book, she has accumulated over 500 'friends' most of whom she does not know or ever hope to meet.
Clementine Muhooza, a social worker says schools and homes tend to be too strict for kids who feel a sense of liberty while online. "When they join these social networks, they suddenly feel liberated," she said.
It's in the social networks that girls and boys are flirting and getting seduced by men and women who are fit to be their parents.
"In cyber, they get a chance to be about anyone or do about everything that they will never be allowed to do in real life," Muhooza added.
She says that the trouble is, when kids get tired of 'just watching' pornography or other sexual acts for example, they now try to experiment.
A trainer with 'Help Rwanda', a community based organizations in Remera, says they have introduced several short courses where they train and create awareness among young people to help them deal with such risks. Areas taught cover HIV awareness and prevention, counseling as well as sexually transmitted diseases.
So what's the best way to protect the children while in cyber world? Muhooza suggest limited access and monitoring the sites that they visit. This is however, a very difficult task when over one million children get hooked onto the internet next year because most parents and teachers who would regulate the children are either busy or computer illiterate.
Mick Nyendwoha, the computer game dealer says, what authorities can do is to block all dangerous websites and leave only those that are relevant to be accessed by students.
He also says passwords can be used to actually monitor traffic and ensure regulation and control, this he says will need a very skilled systems administrator to implement in every school.