Internet access poses increased threat to children’s safety - Report

BY: Edmund Smith-Asante

A new research conducted by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in collaboration with the Ministry of Communications and other partners into child online practices in Ghana, has revealed that four out of 10 young people have made contact with someone on the internet they had never met face to face before.

The revelation indicates an increased threat to children as they access the internet daily according to a report from the research.

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Corroborating the threat that exposure to the internet posed to children, the Minister of Communications, Mrs Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, said “The internet revolution has transformed how we communicate and access information and is an increasingly valuable resource for children and young people to learn, socialise, innovate and connect.

“However, the increase in accessibility to the internet has resulted in an increased threat to the safety and security of children online. This is because they can be exposed to bullying, online abuse, harassment, or identity theft, which can negatively impact their well-being.”

The research, which was launched as part of National Cyber Security Awareness Month titled, Risks and Opportunities Related to Child Online Practices in Ghana provides insight and information on access, usage, user habits, risk and opportunities related to the use of the internet among children aged between nine and 17 years.


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A total of 3,000 respondents comprising 2,000 children and 1,000 parents or caregivers across the 10 regions of Ghana were interviewed.

Threat

Mrs Ursula Owusu-Ekuful said while the report indicated that seven out of 10 young people used the internet for learning, it was worrying that four out of 10 children/adolescents had contacted someone on the internet they had never met face to face before and two out of 10 children/adolescents had met someone face to face that they first got to know on the internet.

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“It is also worth noting that approximately three in 10 children/adolescents said they have experienced something that bothered or upset them while online,” she added.

Mrs Owusu-Ekuful therefore, recommended; “Child Online Protection requires a multi organisational approach with local, national and international co-operation and I would like to encourage all stakeholders to get involved in the collaborative effort to protect children within the virtual online space and ensure a safe and secure online experience for children everywhere.

Commenting on the report, the UNICEF Representative in Ghana, Ms Anne-Claire Dufay, said “UNICEF is pleased to support this research as a first step in a collaborative effort to protect children in the digital space.”

She called for interventions to sensitise and help children on responsible and safe online practices, including what and who to share personal information with and who to add as a friend, as well as available safety options.

“Secondly, since children mostly use the internet at home, parents/guardians have a significant role to play in supporting, mediating or monitoring without limiting the rights of children and benefits of using the internet. Finally, the survey shows that there is limited use of the internet at school. Interventions to increase and improve this will be required to support teaching and learning,” Ms Dufay urged.

Parents

According to the report, only two out of ten parents or guardians are confident that their children can cope with things that upset them while online.

Nearly three out of ten (28 per cent) parents/guardians are also confident of offering support to their children to cope with things that upsets them online, the report stated.

The report also captures the enormous opportunities and benefits children derive from the use of the internet and the kind of support structures, supervision and control measures that exist to protect children online, she noted.