Study lifts lid on online sex pests preying on children

Seth Onyango @SethManex The government will bolster online surveillance to protect children from sex predators, Kenya Film Classification Board chief executive Ezekiel Mutua has said.

This follows revelations that children in the country are increasingly being targeted for abuse online owing to increased penetration of cheap smart phones and easy access to internet.

A new study dubbed the “Dark Side of the Internet for Children” has found that children with access to internet, mostly through mobile phones, are falling prey to individuals sourcing for child pornographic content for commercial and paedophilic use.

The report, released yesterday by Terre des Hommes, a Dutch children’s rights lobby, highlights how children are sending explicit pictures or messages (sexting) to adults, in some cases strangers.

And, according to data by United States agency Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), there are 750,000 individuals looking to connect with children across the globe for sexual purposes online at any moment.

Minors, often with little knowledge, have admitted to receiving requests from strangers via social media to share intimate photos of themselves. In two incidents, child pornographic materials have been produced in Kenya for an overseas audience.

Speaking when he officially launched the report at a Nairobi hotel yesterday, Mutua decried the situation, saying: “We are putting mechanisms in place that will enable us take down pornographic material from Kenya’s cyberspace.”

“We must also protect children from aggressive marketing practices seeking to sell adult products like condoms, alcohol and gambling to minors. Our children are valuable and precious,” he added.

The report further revealed that children who establish contacts with sex predators online would then meet them in person are often abused.

Terre des Hommes country manager Angela Nyamu said there is strong evidence that Online Child Sexual Exploitation is happening in Kenya through various forms.

“Increased mobile phone penetration and internet access have given rise to a set of conditions that have made children more vulnerable to sexual exploitation,” she said.

Additionally, high levels of poverty has also pushed children into transactional sexual activities as a means of survival.

It has emerged that there is growing demand for sexualised children content. Online child exploitation specifically involves live performance by children of sexual acts in front of a web-cam or cell phone camera, and is instantaneously transmitted to paying adult viewers who can watch and engage while the abuse is occurring.

The study has revealed that the absence of a clear and enforceable regulatory framework governing cyber cafés operations has also led to the rise of the vice.

The internet cafes offer access to public chatrooms, social media, video chatting and other file sharing software. Some cyber cafes in Kenya even provide back rooms where their customers can enjoy privacy.

These private rooms are not restricted and anyone, including children, as long as they could afford. A separate study conducted in Kenya, Cameroon, the Gambia, Togo and Uganda shows that 54 per cent of children had shared pornographic materials online.

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