Cybersecurity: Child Internet Protection

I thought to make my household a technology savvy environment and also to expose my kids early to technology use, so I decided to buy my daughter a tablet for her 5th birthday. She has always shown this pure inquisitive interest toward all the portable devices at home (as most children, her age, will normally do) and I did not want a circumstance where she mistakenly messes around with my working tools, or simply damage them.

So I bought the tablet, configured the home Wi-Fi network on it and presented her the new toy. Voila, she grabbed it and sped away to her room! Before I could offer any sort of assistance, she was already on the google play app and had started downloading her favorite games and other apps, most of which were already familiar to her, from her use with other mobile devices. Great! I exclaimed and I was happy to make her happy.

A couple of months later, I came across her tablet and interestedly decided to go through it. As I flipped the numerous apps she had downloaded, mostly “Barbie”, the favorite for early aged girls, I noticed some disturbing Barbie apps which further raised my curiosity.

Child protection have always been a lifelong humanity concern, hence the reason why it is not surprising the Child Online Protection Act was passed into law in 1998 in the United States for the protection of minor on the internet. The COPA required that all commercial distributors of material considered harmful to children should restrict their sites from access by minors. In 2010, the Nigeria Communications Commission followed suit by organizing a stakeholder forum to develop a framework on Child Online Protection with particular emphasis on the Information, Communication and Technology industry. This was being championed by the Ex First Lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan.

But how effective are these regulations in the protection of a minor from the dangers of the internet? According to online resources, “Material harmful to minors” was defined as content that by “contemporary community standards” was judged to appeal to the “immodest interest” and that showed sexual acts or nudity (including female breasts).

As with all creations in life, the internet is a very valuable tool that provides as much good information as harmful ones. The protection of minors on the internet requires a multi-level approach to implementing the needed security. Inasmuch as there are current child online protection laws or in the case of Nigeria which still has its bill as a work in progress, the need to properly protect a child starts from the child’s immediate environ. Just the way a child can wander in life without proper parental guidance is the same way a child can ramble into a world of obscenity on the internet without proper parental or content control.

It is estimated in 2003 that 20% of all pornography traded over the internet was child pornography, which have since increased by 1500%. The US Department of Justice states that “at any one time there are estimated to be more than one million pornographic images of children on the internet, with 200 new images posted daily.” Child pornography on the internet is becoming more brutal and graphic, and about 80% of the children in the abusive images are female under the age of 12!

To further drive home my point; statistics from survey shows that 90% of children that have access to the internet make use of the internet and 60% of these children communicate in chat rooms. About 80% of children with access to internet freely share personal information about themselves and family members, and there is a high probability that a small percentage of these kids can be targeted by pedophile or other undesirable visitors. We should also not forget cyber-bullying, online gaming and other addictions.

What a lot of parents don’t know is there is a wide gap between what parent think and what children know. When parents say they have rulebooks and do monitor their kids, a percentage of these kids do confess to that fact that their parents have no idea! In the UK, according to online source, 60% of children between 9 – 16 year olds say they have seen online pornography. If one checks, these patterns are consistent to most countries across the world, Nigeria not excluded.

As the increase in the internet penetration grows in Nigeria, there will also be an increase in its home use. The internet has brought a lot of untold benefits to people around the world and it will not be uncommon to have Nigerian families embrace it as it gets more affordable, just as it is the case in advance climes. But while the good of the internet is not in denial, it has also raised disturbing issues every parent should be anxious about, and so, the need to be able to identify technological or other methods that will help reduce access by children to material that is harmful to minors on the internet.

The first step in protecting children online is the necessity for parents to be aware of the kind of dangers lurking on the internet. Next is to have internet access points with parental and content control capabilities. This should however be properly configured by the parents or a consultant, if need be. There are so many online materials that can assist in these configurations.

In addition to the steps above, I ensured, in the case of my daughter, that the home internet access point provides internet connectivity to her device only when either of the parents is around and at weekends. Child online protection starts at home.

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