Google launches online safety campaign for children in Kenya


Children who access Internet are at risk of many online threats. PHOTO | FILE

Google Kenya has launched an online child safety campaign as it seeks to promote responsible and positive use of digital technology for young people.

The tech firm has partnered with Code-IP to design a Child Online Protection Kenya campaign, which will lead to the launch of the Kenya Webrangers—a peer-to-peer mentoring club on child online safety in different secondary schools.

Improved telecommunication infrastructure— four submarine fibre optic cables connecting the country to the rest of the world and massive investment in metro fibre connectivity have cut Internet charges, enabling many Kenyans to access cheap and high-speed Internet.

Internet users currently stand at 23.3 million by December 2014 from three million users in 2008.

The improved telecommunication infrastructure, has also opened the country to international cyber threats, such as cyber bullying which can range from embarrassing or cruel online posts (including hate speech) or digital pictures, to e-threats, harassment, and negative comments, to stalking through e-mails, websites, social networks and text messages, calling for child online protection.

Protecting children online is now a global challenge. In Kenya, protecting children online, is a concern of many parents, government, parents and multinational firms.

Last week, Google Kenya in partnership with non-profit organisation, Content Development and Intellectual Property Trust (Code-IP Trust) marked the Safer Internet Day, at Precious Blood Secondary School, Riruta to engage teachers, parents and students on child online safety and the opportunities on the Internet.

Alex Gakuru, the executive director of CODE-IP in an interview with Business Daily said the launch of the Child Online Protection–Kenya is a step towards addressing challenges and giving the youth or students localised material that can help them identify the risks and come up with solutions to tackle the problem.

“We want to stimulate debate around this issue of child online safety,” Mr Gakuru said.

The pilot mentorship project will be implemented in 15 to 20 schools within Nairobi and its environs.

In Kenya, the mobile phones remain the main medium through which 90 per cent of the 23.3 million Internet users access the web. The smartphones are easily accessible by children who in most cases are more technology-savvy and fast adopters of new technology.

“We intend to achieve this by localising online safety materials, giving it the Kenya context. We want to get the students involved in coming up with the solutions. It is not for us to tell them how to go around it, but the youths to tell us,” he said.

Students from Dagoretti High School; Lenana High School; Moi Girls School, Nairobi; Buru Buru Girls High School; Brookhouse School and Makini School (High School) also attended the event.

“The Internet provides us with varied benefits. However, to make it a safer place for all, everyone including the young users have a role to play in ensuring a better cyberspace,” said Michael Murungi, Google’s head of policy and government Affairs for East Africa.

Parents were urged to arm themselves with information such as the sites their children visit so that they can advise them on the use and possible dangers.

Communication Authority of Kenya (CA) plans to develop a comprehensive framework that protects the safety of children on the Internet, following increasing dangers of prowling cyber criminals.

The authority has invited various stakeholders to help it come up with practical tools that will enable it to minimise the risks to children.

The recommendations will complement the activities of the Consumer Awareness Division that is tasked with the responsibility of reaching out to all consumers of communications services including children.

Globally, the UK government announced in December that will introduce a new law making it illegal for an adult to send a sexual communication to a child and that Britain’s eavesdropping agency will join forces with organised crime experts to apply the same methods used to track down terrorists to tackle online child abuse.

In 2006, one of Britain’s ‘worst ever’ paedophiles was sentenced to 20 years in jail. Robert Smith, 65, admitted preying on 21 young children— some of them only toddlers.

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