Malawi to strengthen online child protection drive

Malawi is geered up to strengthen online child protection drive which is a threat to the development of the youth in Malawi.

Itaye: The social media networking poses additional risks and threats to our children and young people

The Child Online Protection (COP) is being developed with support form government, Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) in partnership with International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

Speaking in Lilongwe on Monday during the opening of a stakeholders forum on the development of the national COP framework, MACRA Director General Godfrey Itaye said the move holds a special significance to the institution as a parent to digital children.

“It is without doubt, that internet has been the biggest game changer in this era, affecting every aspect of our socio-economic lives, from the way we do business, communicate, interact, learn and socialize.

“The children born in this digital age embrace internet and technology as if it is part of their DNA, using it as a platform for learning and research, chatting with friends sharing videos and photos, playing interactive games and literally accessing the world. Internet has become  an integral part of their daily lives,” he said.

Given the vast amounts of content available online, Itaye said these children may unknowingly or knowingly stumble upon unsuitable content while surfing online.

He said the children are exposed to these inappropriate contents and are vulnerable to accept and engage themselves in similar activities.

“Unfortunately, in most cases the ease with which they navigate the net far surpasses the knowledge of most parents or guardians who are mostly unaware of what the children are surfing on the internet,” he said.

The 2014 the National Statistic Office (NSO) and MACRA coordinated a National ICT Access and Usage survey which revealed that internet penetration in Malawi is at 17.6% and out of this, 5% belongs to users between the ages of 0-24yrs.

Facebook users Statistics for Africa by June 2017 indicate that Malawi had about 15 thousand internet users in December 2000, which has increased to over 1.5 million by June this year translating to internet growth rate of 11.6% with 720 thousand Facebook users by June 2017.

“Even though the internet penetration might appear low as compared to other countries, it offers Malawi an opportunity to put in place security measures for child online protection before more and more children and young persons get on line as internet penetration increases.

“The social media networking poses additional risks and threats to our children and young people as their identity and privacy are susceptible to online intrusion. Children expose themselves by posting personal IDs, emotions, location and images on social networking sites.

“All these can be taken advantage of by unscrupulous individuals who target such young people. Therefore unknowingly children can become victims of kidnapping, rape, deception, drug and child trafficking by cyber criminals,” said Itaye.

The stakeholders involved in child on line protection include government, the public sector , private sector, industry players, NGOs and law enforcers.

“This is also a clear testament that COP is a shared responsibility requiring a multi-stakeholder approach.  Various issues need to be addressed under COP including policy, legislation, industry regulation, as well as how best to monitor and educate our children on online safety,” he said.

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