Maximising on child safety during Covid-19 pandemic

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2020 00:00 |
Maximising on child safety during Covid-19 pandemic.

Experts agree that it will take a combined effort from parents, government, private sector, working laws and community at large needs to come together and ensure that children are safe.

Njeri Maina @njerimainar

School going children have been at home for almost nine months now. With most of the classes being held online, children are being exposed to more screen time than ever before.

Many parents have been worrying about this, unsure of the dangers that lurk online and on how to protect their children.

“I have two children; a 13 and an eight-year-old. They have online classes and half the time I’m not around to chaperone them.

They run circles around the help. They open a small tab for classes then proceed to do other things in the background.

I have found them on YouTube several times and was thinking of disabling that so they can fully concentrate on school.

There is a time we had to take turns staying with them just so they could learn. This of course is untenable in the long run,” Miriam Njuguna, a Nairobi parent shared. 

According to research done by Plan International, based on a survey of 14,000 girls aged 15-25 in 22 countries, including Kenya, Brazil, Benin, the USA and India, more than 58 per cent of the interviewees have been harassed or abused online.

The study found that girls who use social media in high and low-income countries alike are routinely subjected to explicit messages, pornographic photos, cyber stalking and other distressing forms of abuse, and that reporting tools are ineffective in stopping it.

“It is therefore, paramount that online safety is prioritised. We must also be cognizant of the fact that online abuse disempowers girls and young women by shutting them out of a space, which plays a huge part in young people’s lives to advocate for their rights and share their opinions,” Kate Maina-Vorley, Country Director of Plan International Kenya said.

Gaps in law?

The worries are slowly graduating from Internet exposure to gender based violence with underage children being bust in orgies and drinking parties. But can these children be held liable for their actions?

According to Article 260 of the Constitution and section 2 of the Children Act, anyone under the age of 18 years in Kenya is a minor.

Section 28 of the Alcoholic Drinks Control Act prohibits the sale of alcoholic drinks to persons under the age of 18 years.

The Act places a duty on persons and establishments selling alcoholic drinks to ensure that all their patrons are above the age of 18 years.

Where minors are found in possession of alcoholic drinks, then the police will endeavour to find out who supplied them with such alcoholic drinks and hold them liable.

In this case, minors cannot be charged with the possession of alcoholic drinks. However, the case is slightly different where illegal drugs such as cannabis sativa (bhang) are concerned.

Minors found in possession of illegal drugs may be charged with an offence for the use, possession, or trafficking of such drugs under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act.

“It is noteworthy that section 16 of the Children Act provides that a child is entitled to protection from the use of drugs.

From where I stand, the society and Government have greatly failed in this regard.

Instead of taking proactive measures to prevent substance abuse, both actors turn a blind eye only to swoop in once the child has become an “offender” and at that time liable for punishment by law,” Elizabeth Njambi, founder and CEO of Wakilisha Initiative comments. 

Additionally, the age of consent in Kenya is 18 years of age. Section 8 of the Sexual Offences Act states that any person who has sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 18 years is guilty of defilement and liable to imprisonment.

“The section sadly and debatably provides for the “punishment”/ “treatment” of minors charged with the offence of defilement.

According to the act, defilement is the offence of “causing penetration with a child.”

Therefore, where anyone under the age of 18 years, is involved in sexual intercourse, the person who engaged the child in the act is guilty of defilement.

This means that in a case of two minors, even when the sex is consensual, the boy child is held to be guilty of defilement of another child, even though both of them might be victims,” Elizabeth explains.

 “While Section 23 of the Children Act provides for parental responsibility to include a parent’s duty to protect the child from neglect, discrimination and abuse; and provide parental guidance in religious, moral, social, cultural and other values, a parent cannot be charged by law when their child is found to have broken the law.

It is, however, important not to completely indemnify parents as child psychologists have found a correlation between parenting style and delinquency,” Elizabeth warns.

Way forward

Child counsellor and psychologist Elmard Rigan shares the importance of equipping children to be independent.

He argues that extreme oversight alone may not be enough to cause behavioural change.

The parent needs to work on intrinsic behavioural motivators while still maintaining oversight.

This will ensure the child know themselves, their boundaries and are less susceptible to peer pressure.

They will also be clear when their boundaries have been crossed and can communicate this to the offenders or a grown up who can help them seek legal action or counselling if need be. 

“At times children will be children. They will act out of curiosity. Try and learn why they are acting the way they are without shutting down the lines of communication.

It is only through understanding the root cause of their behaviour that one can prevent a reoccurrence of the same behaviour,” he advises.

Plan International director encourages parents and children to hold accountable offenders both online and in real life as there are departments equipped for this.

The DCI has a fully-fledged Anti-Human Trafficking and Child Protection Unit.

Plan International has been doing sensitisation workshops with police stations with regards to the gender desk so that they are more sensitive to people who come to report gender based violence or even online harassment.

She recommends for communities to support girls and any children who have suffered from online harassment or physical abuse and not trivialise the issue by arguing that it is normal or small.

She also encourages civil societies to conduct awareness and education drives to enlighten communities and young ones of their rights and the remedies provided for by law.

“We for instance have launched a chatbot Maru, which has a series of language responses that offer advice on reporting mechanisms, staying safe online and links to resources.

This is aimed at helping young online users identify when they are being harassed and how to react to this,” Kate  explains.

Elizabeth fully agrees that the war for our children’s safety can only be won if all the stakeholders come together and hold wrongdoers accountable.

“Parents cannot do this alone. The government, the private sector and the community at large needs to come together and ensure that our children are safe.

If you find your neighbour holding parties with underage children, hold them accountable.

If you are friends with someone who makes demeaning comments to women online even as a joke, hold them accountable.

Most importantly, empower the children to know their rights and what they should and should not do and why. This will ensure they are strong even on their own,” she says in conclusion.

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