The internet continues to dominate most of today´s world with its infinite opportunities. Generations are being born into it. Toddlers as young as two are able to entertain themselves on platforms like YouTube and teenagers are continuing to engage online. Protecting children online is just as important as protecting them in real life. For children like Ruth and Leah, it is vital to empower them on what to do when they face online abuse.
Ruth, 17, lives in Kenya´s vibrant Mombasa county. Her stepfather´s income was not enough to meet the family´s needs. Consequently, Ruth dropped out of school in 2018 and began looking for a job in 2019. She was put to work as a domestic worker for a man named Kurl. He sexually exploited Ruth and her 16-year old friend. Kurl also took sexually explicit materials that featured the children. Ruth felt ashamed and guilty whenever she met people. She constantly kept thinking that they knew what had happened to her. Kurl´s house was raided by the police who confiscated his gadgets. The girls were taken to the hospital to get medical support. Kurl allegedly bribed the police to secure his release. The case is in progress with efforts to bring the perpetrator to book. The girls received counselling and legal support. Plans are ongoing to ensure Ruth goes back to school.
Leah resides in one of Mombasa´s sub-counties in Kenya. She loves dancing. Her former 26-year-old boyfriend, who was later arrested and charged with defilement, had convinced her to feature in a music video. Leah and other minors were filmed dancing explicitly while not being fully dressed. The video was distributed through YouTube and the song started getting traffic. A local community member identified Leah in the video and reported it to the police. As a result, it was pulled down. The case was referred to the Online Child Sexual Exploitation counsellor by the Children Office. Leah was assisted with legal, medical, and psychosocial support. In addition to this, she was also educated about online safety. Leah was guilt-ridden before getting intervention. She says, “I was feeling shameful and thought that my father will never forgive me.” Leah still loves dancing and she aspires to finish school and help her family.
There are many children who have found themselves in situations similar to that of Ruth and Leah. They have no clue of what to do when abused online or where they can turn to. It is with this in mind that Terre des Hommes in partnership with Childline Kenya and African Institute for Children Studies successfully launched a manual that aims to empower children about online abuse and sexual exploitation. This can be summarised by teaching children to be smart when they are using smartphones.
Safe- Children should be made to understand why sharing their personal information online puts them in danger. This is because perpetrators use this information to later exploit children.
Meeting- Warn children that they should never meet a stranger they have been talking to online. To be safe, an adult should always accompany the child during the meeting.
Accepting- Informing children that just like the filters that are used on social media, filtering online information is just as important. This includes messages, contact information and friend requests. Children ought to know that there is nothing wrong with declining a friend request.
Reliable- Children should be sensitized that not all information they find on social media is reliable. It is estimated that fake news spreads almost six times faster than real news. Let them understand that perpetrators who abuse children online create fake profiles and post false information.
Tell- Children should know that they can always tell their parents or caregivers about any abuse they face online. They can also reach out to the police, or call a toll-free hotline like Childline Kenya at 116.