Parents and telecom firms risk a Sh300,000 fine over the registration of children using smartphones in the latest push to restrict the exposure of minors to online misconduct such as pornography, hate speech and cybercrime.
Parents will be expected to provide the identity of children using smartphones while registering SIM cards used by minors under proposed Internet safety guidelines released last week for public debate.
This will be an upgrade of the current model in which parents use their credentials to register SIM cards their children operate.
The listing will, for the first time, offer the regulator a registry of children using smartphones in the push to curb online risks to minors and their participation in virtual crimes such as pornography, cyberbullying and identity theft.
While being online can offer children and young people benefits such as access to educational content, there are also drawbacks and dangers.
These can include cyberbullying, exposure to disturbing content and inappropriate, unwanted contact from adults.
The Child Online Protection and Safety Guidelines will demand that telcos, Internet service providers and app developers verify the age of their users.
The measure could see people asked to prove their age via a third-party service, which aims to give children better protection from explicit material such as pornography.
As more kids use mobile phones and surf the web at increasingly younger ages, sexting and Internet safety are becoming bigger childhood health concerns, edging out longtime worries like smoking and teen pregnancy
"Mobile service providers in the development of age-verification mechanism ensure that All SIM cards that are to be used by children/minors shall be registered," says the guidelines released by the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA).
"Mobile phone subscribers are informed of the need to appropriately register their SIM cards and declare the intended subscribers of the SIM cards."
The guidelines say the registration of SIM cards will be done under the Kenya Information and Communications (Registration of SIM-cards) Regulations, 2015.
This suggests that this part of the guidelines could be enforced under the regulations, which provide for a fine of Sh300, 000 or a jail term of six months or both.
Normally, guidelines are not enforceable by law and are introduced for sound practice.
The usage of smartphones and tablets among children has increased over the past decade as the cost of the devices falls.
The Vatican has cited studies that show the average age of first access to digital pornography is 11, prompting a global call for technology firms to curb the easy access to pornography on the web.
Child safety groups have long been calling for age verification on porn sites over fears it is too easy for minors to access publically available material online.
The guidelines place an additional burden on vendors selling smartphones and tablets in the race to control children's access to harmful content.
They will be expected to include in their manuals steps on how parents can use inbuilt apps like parental control to influence the content accessed by minors via smartphones.
This may include controls in web browsers and app stores that allow parents to monitor and control the browsing behaviour of their children.
Parents can view the supervised users' browsing history, block specific sites, and approve access requests.
Others include SafeSearch, which is activated automatically for supervised users, preventing most adult content from appearing in Google search results.
The regulator's guidelines demand that vendors or outlets selling smartphones install built-in security ahead of selling the gadgets.
"Manufacturers and vendors of communication devices including customer premises equipment should…activate heightened default security prior to them being sold or made accessible to customers, especially for devices that would be used by children," reads part of the new guidelines.
This is the latest attempt by the State to protect children against bullies, predators, pornography and other inappropriate material.
The State last year tabled a Bill that seeks to slap anyone using online platforms to lure children to crimes like prostitution and drug abuse with a Sh2 million fine or 10 years in jail or both.
Majority Leader Amos Kimunya tabled the Children Bill, 2021, which seeks to boost protection by targeting online predators who lure children to online crimes.
Non-State organisations have also backed the government's efforts to protect children against online exploitation.
In 2020, the UK-based Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) commissioned Kenya's first-ever online portal targeting paedophiles uploading or sharing child-related sexual content.
The agency partnered with the Directorate of Criminal Investigations to launch the platform that enables law enforcers to receive information on online child sexual exploitation and abuse immediately it is posted, allowing for quick action.
The IWF said that its experts removed 32,700 web pages showing the sexual abuse of children in 2019, highlighting the precarious state of children's safety.