REPORT: MORE UGANDAN CHILDREN ACCESSING THE INTERNET

A new report by the global partnership to End Violence against children shows that up to forty percent of Ugandan children aged 12–17, are accessing online platforms, making at least one visit to the internet once a week. Many of these children use smartphones, which they often share, to go online and the main platforms visited include Facebook, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. The findings are a product of a research dubbed “Disrupting Harm” conducted in six Southeast Asian countries and seven Eastern and Southern African countries, including Uganda. The report shows that even though the internet can be a powerful tool for children to connect, explore and learn, it can result into unacceptable risks and threats of harm, some of which children also encounter in other settings and some of which are unique to the online context. Findings indicate that most abusers of children online are those that the children already know, and many children do not speak up when abused. The Executive Director End Violence Partnership, Dr. Howard Taylor says one of the risks that children accessing the internet face is misuse of the internet and digital technologies. “Online grooming, sharing of child sexual abuse material and livestreaming of child abuse are crimes against children that need an urgent, multi-sectoral and global response”. Howard says. He says that prevention and protection have become more difficult for governments, public officials, and providers of public services to children, but also for parents and caregivers trying to keep-up with their children’s use of technology. The report comes at a time when more children are accessing online platforms for information or entertainment. The COVID 19 pandemic that also led to the closure of schools sent many to alternative ways of learning that include online platforms. What is also saddening is that law enforcement, the justice system and social services lack awareness, capacity, and resources to respond to cases of online commercial sexual exploitation of children leaving many cases incomplete. This is attributed to the lack of laws, policies and standards related to online commercial sexual exploitation and abuse of children. Speaking at the launch of the report in Uganda, the deputy representative UNICEF, Dr. Jane Muita said that in order to effectively address the issue of online child sexual exploitation and abuse, different stakeholders should work together to ensure they have the latest knowledge, adequate legislation and protocols, and reporting mechanisms that protect and prioritize children's wellbeing. The Commissioner children and youth at the ministry of gender, labor and social development, Fred Ngabirano says that internet is a positive catalyst for innovation, education and economic growth but also facilitates abuse if not used well. “As parents, teachers, policy makers, civil society and government, we need to tackle this emerging issue of online commercial sexual exploitation and abuse of Children.”. Mr. Ngabirano noted. The research in Uganda was carried out by the Uganda Youth Development link in partnership with ECPAT, INTERPOL AND UNICEF.

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