Parental laxity exposing minors to online threats

Internet user in a cyber cafe
Young people are not protected from the menaces associated with internet access freedom. Courtesy Photo.

Child rights activists and operators of internet cafes in Kampala are challenging parents to control children’s access to the internet as a measure to promote online safety for minors. They argue that the absence of controls and policies to regulate online content is exposing minors to online threats.

A survey by our reporters across internet cafes in Kampala indicates that young people are not protected from the menaces associated with internet freedom. Our reporters established that there are no controls for explicit content as public cafe operators focus more attention on earnings.

Davis Bright, the operator of the Internet Computing Centre, one of the cafes in Kampala confirms that indeed they do not have a specific policy for children. He however hastens to add that most of the exposure in homes where parental control seems to be lacking as opposed to the public internet cafes.

Similarly, Tesa Semakadde, an operator of a cafe in Kampala noted that although they have strict policies with children, teenagers are sometimes very difficult to monitor. Semakadde equally faults parents for equipping children with gadgets.

Olive Sseruwagi, an operator at Tick Internet Cafe in Kampala said they only regulate adult content in the cafe but cannot control the amount of time minors spend in the cafe.

According to Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) there are 17 million internet users in Uganda with most of them being the youth.

But Irene Oluka, a child protection officer with United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says that the current internet boom is presenting serious challenges to parenting across the world. She says that apart from exploring explicit materials, children can suffer violence, sexual messaging, kidnap and cyber bullying among others.

Oluka says a simple thing like asking children not to accept requests from strangers is a great step, than allowing a child to have unverified associates.

Ayub Kalema, an Educator, observes that several parents seem unaware of the threats of internet, adding that there should be traditional methods to deliberately teach children positive internet use besides buying for them gadgets.

Fred Otunnu, the Director Corporate Affairs with Uganda Communications Commission says that they do not regulate Internet Cafes. He however states that Internet cafes are bound to operate within certain laws in the country like the Anti-Pornographic Act, Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act, and Access to Information Act among others.

Otunnu also advises parent to take the lead role in controlling what their children can access.

Meanwhile the Executive Director UCC, Godfrey Mutabazi states that since the issue of child safety and internet use is a worldwide challenge, as Uganda they will look into the matter of Internet Cafes, he however says because of the availability of smart phones, Internet Cafes are not so dynamic.

– Uganda Radio Network