New push to protect children from harmful online content

As the adoption of internet and smart devices continue to surge, children are becoming more vulnerable to criminals who are deliberately out to harm them or provide them with bad content.

This calls for parents, guardians and teachers to be extra vigilant to determine and control what content the children are getting exposed to. Governments, tech giants and lobbies have a role to play too in protecting children from bad digital content by taking protective measures.

A number of initiatives has been rolled out by various actors to keep children safe from cybercriminals while ensuring that they obtain relevant content.  One of the latest plans is a partnership between Kenya and UK’s Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), which seeks to rein in on Paedophiles uploading or sharing child-related sexual content.

The IWF and Kenya’s Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) pact is aimed at flagging offensive content through anonymous calls or text messages with the link of the bad content provided to enable tracking of devices used and subsequently helping arrest the culprits as quickly as possible.

DCI and IWF have already set up Kenya’s first ever online portal enabling law enforcers to receive information on online child sexual exploitation and abuse immediately it is posted. Once they get the information, the law enforcers then swiftly act.

Lady Justice Martha Koome said offensive content should be immediately pulled down, counselling that evidence and prosecution of child-related cases should be reviewed to expedite the process of getting rid of such content.

“You do not require any court order to pull down any material that exposes a child to sexual exploitation and abuse, whether copyrighted or not. The judicial system prioritises what is done in the best interest of the child,” she said.

Mueni Mutisya, head of Anti-Human Trafficking and Child Protection Unit’s (AHTCPU), noted that anyone who detects the offending content should report in person or make an anonymous call through the DCI hotline.  Upon receiving the call or report and authenticating it, DCI then proceeds to hastily to pull down the content as it conducts investigations.

“Child online protection is a shared responsibility and once cases of online sexual abuse on children are reported and a link to any website authoring such content is shared,” Ms Mutisya said, noting that the “portal will enable us to expedite the process of pulling down the unsuitable materials before they cause more damage to our children.”

Susie Hargreaves OBE, Chief Executive of the IWF said the portal will make the internet safer for the entire world.

 “This is a brilliant step forward, and we are so pleased to have been able to play our part in getting this portal up and running,” she said.

“All around the world, people are spending more time on the internet due, in part, to the coronavirus. This is a particularly important time to make sure child sexual abuse on the internet is called out, wherever it is being shared, and this portal will play a huge role in making sure this can be done safely.”

Waqar Qureshi, the National Crime Agency’s international liaison officer for Kenya and Uganda, said the new initiative is timely, adding that paedophiles will now be firmly dealt with.

“Launch of IWF portal will increase the number of investigations of child sexual abuse and exploitation by AHTCPU,” he said.

“In 2019, our strong ties with AHTCPU led to the creation of the unit’s cyber wing, which conducts investigations into online child sexual exploitation and abuse.”

The  portal launch meeting attended by the United Nations Office on Drugs(UNODC), Technology Service Providers of Kenya (TESPOK), United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC), Interpol and the Internet Service Providers  was told that 132,700 webpages showing the sexual abuse of children globally were removed by IWF analysts in 2019.

Investigations deputy director at DCI, Carey Nyawinda said the partnership will go a long way in making Kenyan children safe “within physical and virtual environments”.

Last year, Internet giant, Google unveiled new tools and resources aimed at enhancing safeguards for stay-at-home children and adult people.

“We have intensified efforts to raise awareness about internet insecurities and empower audiences with tools and resources to help them stay safe online — particularly kids because they are the most vulnerable,” Google said.

 “Having been involved in the creation of Africa’s first dedicated Anti Human Trafficking and Child Protection Unit in 2016 and the first dedicated Child Exploitation Cyber Unit in 2018,  Qumodo are delighted to continue to support the huge impact this unit is having leading the way in the fight against child exploitation across Africa,”  said Kelvin Lay MBE, Head of Strategic Partnerships with Qumodo, a company that researches, designs and develops AI technology

“With the launch today of the IWF Portal in Kenya this puts in place another piece of the infrastructure that is required to protect the rights of African Children.”

Qumodo, he noted, would continue to work with Kenya’s DCI to provide the technology and mentorship in partnership with the IWF and other strategic partners “to bring a consistent law enforcement response across Africa and beyond.”

Kenya’s is the 44th IWF portal, the 21st to be launched in Africa, and the 26th to be sponsored by the Global Fund. IWF Portals are currently available in 17 languages – Arabic, English, French, Hindi, Indonesian, Kazakh, Lingala, Malaysian Bahasa, Mongolian, Nepali, Pashto, Portuguese, Spanish, Swahili, Ukrainian, Urdu, and Wolof.

Speaking in Nairobi where he  launched a ‘How to be Safe Online’ storybook last  year in October, Google country director Agnes Gathaiya said the advent of the Covid-19 period has triggered the need for higher internet controls to keep  children away from online dangers including cyberbullying, hacking, phishing, and exposure to inappropriate material for the younger users.

According to IWF, 46 percent of victims are 10 years or under, while 92 percent of images uploaded were girl-victims.

 The UK-based international charity now working with partners in 44 countries finds and removes images and videos of child sexual abuse from the internet.

Ms Gathaiya added that Google would continue monitoring and where necessary automatically blocking security threats from reaching users. Internet users, she advised, can reduce the security risk through unique, different and strong passwords across multiple channels.

“Phishing, a common technique where hackers trick people into granting access to their accounts or sensitive information, like passwords can be avoided by Google Chrome’s Password Alert extension at that  flags off and notifies users every time a Google password is used on a non-Google site,” she said.

Regular users, she stated, can enhance safety by enabling a two-step verification mode thereby blocking instances where users illegally access private email accounts while using a username and a password only.

Google said users should download mobile apps from trusted sources only adding that Google Play Store Apps are periodically checked to affirm safety of users.

Ms Gathaiya reiterated the need to browse on secure networks and connections adding that people need to be careful when using public or free Wi-Fi, even those requiring a password.

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