DCI: Beware of child predators on prowl online

Wednesday, June 10th, 2020 00:00 |
Cyber crime.

Zadock Angira, Harriet James and Irene Githinji

Hillary Ambani’s five-year-old son, Milan has been attending online classes since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

At first, Ambani was anxious whether his son would be able to navigate the tough online terrain, where criminals lurk ready to strike at vulnerable people, especially children.

“I was among those who were not sure about it the first few days. Then I attended one online class and it was done.

I registered that day. I am glad that it is helping him because he has little idle time left for mischief. He is also able to see his classmates virtually,” he says.

 Ambani has installed cyber security anti-virus software to ensure his son is safe and constantly checks what he is doing online. 

The school, too, ensures the protection of all their students by providing a virtual workstation, which is encrypted for each of their pupils.

However, the experience is not similar for all parents and learners. A parent in one of the high-end schools and who requested anonymity admitted that her daughter’s online class was hacked and the site filled with pornographic material.

“The teacher had not logged into the class yet and the children were surprised to open the Zoom platform only to see pornographic content. It is important for parents to supervise their children when they are having e-classes,” she said.

Rising use of the internet even for learning has brought new threats for children by predators, exposing them to risks of kidnapping, defilement or even death.

The Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) has warned that predators are taking advantage of the current Covid-19 pandemic, saying some of the dangers include grooming for sexual purposes and cyber bullying where children can be exposed to pornographic and violent images.

DCI boss George Kinoti on Sunday said at least four cases had been reported to the detectives where the predators sent children messages in their inboxes complimenting their looks.

After gaining their trust, they went ahead to ask them for their nude images among other despicable acts.

“Our officers have also received and are actively investigating other cases of similar nature, from different parts of the country,” said Kinoti.

He urged parents and guardians to constantly monitor the whereabouts of their children at all times and be wary of the content they access online since most of it could be harmful.

The detectives caution that anyone, including close family members and friends, could be potential predators.

 “Some of them can be very patient with their grooming behaviours. Parents must consider the risk of abuse not just with new acquaintances but those they have known and grown to trust,” he said.

The Kenya Private Schools Association (KPSA) chief executive Peter Ndoro said they are aware of system hacks but have luckily not reported any case so far.

He said the Association has advised its members to ensure extra caution is taken while online classes are taking place.

Ndoro added that schools have been urged to ensure any stranger who attempts to get into the system is denied access.

“We have advised our schools to ensure they only admit registered students to online classes,” he said.

Detect disruption

The executive said schools are expected to monitor a class in session so that any disruption is detected immediately.

“We are advising our members to stay on the lookout to avoid exploitation of children while learning,” Ndoro added.

To contain the situation and to protect the vulnerable members of the society, DCI Kinoti has called upon members of the public to report any form of offence committed against any child to the Child Protection Unit (CPU) through the toll-free line 116 or make a report to the nearest police station.

“Affected parents should furnish our officers with the details of the perpetrators such as the user names, phone numbers, email and social media accounts,” Kinoti said.

Another senior DCI officer warned that many young people were reluctant to speak to parents or guardians about a negative online experience for the fear of consequences.

“Be alert for any sign of distress, manage the children’s screen time and set boundaries and limits for online activities where possible,” she said.

Identify risks

The DCI boss said efforts had been made to identify risks and vulnerabilities to children in the cyberspace and creation of awareness to minimise the risks.

“Parents should also be free with their children and young people, and create a culture of support so that they may feel comfortable seeking help. Parents’ reaction has a critical influence on children’s willingness to disclose if they are upset, worried or concerned by something they have seen or that has happened to them online,” he said.

According to a cyber-security expert Ernest Agina, the authorities should consider developing a survey monkey tool and share with several people such as teachers, parents and other stakeholders to understand compliance and the threat landscape.

He adds that parents should be aware of the online and mobile services used by their children.

“Parents and guardians should ask children to show them what they enjoy doing online in order to better understand their habits and the potential dangers they face,” he said.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), there are five key areas for protecting and promoting children’s rights including integrating child rights considerations into all appropriate corporate policies and management processes and developing standard processes to handle child sexual abuse material.

Others include creating a safer and age-appropriate online environment; educating children, parents and teachers about children’s safety and their responsible use of ICTs.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Child Online Protection states that parents should set up parental control modes on all leading browsers (Google, Safari, Firefox, Bing, Duck Duck Go) and also check the individual privacy settings on applications and games.

ITU also advises parents to talk with their children about online safety and be aware of the online and mobile services they are using, and help them understand the importance of managing personal information in the correct way.

As a result, the DCI advises that parents should know how to report problems and seek help.

Children, too, should be shown the blocking and reporting functions in each game and app, so that they can prevent bullies or strangers from contacting them.

Annabell Gichure, a psychologist and transformational coach, believes that while digital learning is the most effective mode of learning post-Covid-19, it is vital for parents to embrace it and also train their children on how to use it positively.

“Have an open conversation with your child on the pros and cons of the digital arena and also set rules for online interaction.

As a parent also ensure that you monitor your child as they learn or use the internet through parental control applications,” she advises, and asks parents to keep a daily routine and stick to it if they desire to see their children concentrate on their online studies.

Parents are advised to be cautious with people who: Spend more time with children than adults or peers, have a “favourite” child they seem to spend time with, give gifts or special privileges and may ask the child to keep it a secret, make comments about a child’s appearance or make flirtatious remarks, disregard “no” “stop” or other efforts from a child to avoid physical contact, among others.

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