A study of Namibian children’s use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and online safety risks shows that 68 percent of respondents reported having seen explicit sexual content they did not wish to see.
Another 31 percent have been sent sexually explicit images of people they did not know. Twenty nine percent saw sexual content, including the abuse of children, while 63 percent reported seeing disturbing or violent images.
This information is contained in an exploratory study on knowledge, attitudes and practices of ICT use and online safety risks faced by children between the ages of 13 and 17 years old. It was conducted by the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST).
The research was conducted under the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare and the Ministry of Education and Sport, as well as the Ministry of Youth.
The report, amongst other findings, indicates that the most embarrassing experiences for young people relate predominantly to personal sexual experiences,
such as being asked by someone on the internet for an explicit sexual image of themselves or sexual information and being forced to watch something sexual online, as well as cyberbullying.
Other types of negative experience most likely to be reported relate to cyberbullying, being sent threatening messages and being stalked online – experiences associated with a relatively high level of negative emotion, particularly fear.
This is the first exploratory research of its nature in the country, which involved a survey of 735 young people between the ages of 13 and 17. The data included demographic information, data on participant access to and use of the Internet, their online behaviour and knowledge of different aspects of the internet, among others.
Speaking at the opening of the National Child Online Protection Conference in Windhoek, which aims to find solutions to make the internet safer for children all over the world, Deputy Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare Lucia Witbooi said Namibia is in the process of developing a child online protection response framework, involving all relevant stakeholders.
Witbooi said Namibia is aware of the risks and dangers that children are exposed to and the country is working on the adaptation and implementation of laws and policies to protect children online, as violence and abuse are no longer restricted to homes, schools and communities, but also happen in the online environment.
She said the progressive Childcare and Protection Act of 2015 provides the overall protective framework against all forms of violence and abuse of children in Namibia. “Child online protection has to be understood as a subgroup of child protection. Child online protection fits into the ministry’s broader gender-based strategy for curbing violence,” she remarked.
Witbooi further said the ministry of information is also working on a new draft electronic transactions and cybercrime Bill, which will address online child pornography and provide for comprehensive and progressive regulations that will enable the national and international prosecution of child pornography offenders.
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) representative Micaela Marques de Sousa said as the excitement about the possibilities of internet grows among young people, criminals too are ecstatic about the possibilities of undertaking unlawful activities and manipulating the online space to erase their tracks.
De Sousa said through the internet children could use social media to hurt, shame or harass other children. It is termed cyber-bullying.
When children or adults share sexually explicit pictures of other children with the intent to hurt or exploit them this is called child pornography, the UNICEF country representative said.
“Children are perhaps, unknowingly, befriending adults whom they have not met before and they agree to meet in the offline world. This we call grooming,” she further explained.
Police Chief Inspector-General Sebastian Ndeitunga said the cybercrime sub-division under the criminal investigation directorate of the Namibian Police is mandated, among others, to protect children and investigate cases related to child online exploitation and abuse.
He also said children and young people should be informed and empowered to protect themselves from online abuse.
“They should be discouraged from posting personal information, such as cellphone numbers, home address or location. They should be careful when posting pictures of themselves, private information, when accepting friend requests from strangers and should avoid meeting persons they first met online,” said the police chief.
Ndeitunga feels children should be encouraged to report to their parents or guardians any content or contact that makes them uncomfortable online.