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The Internet is a huge resource of unlimited knowledge and opportunities, available to anyone and everyone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. It’s always “there” for anyone for any purpose, which can range from seeking information, checking flight schedules, education, medical info, socializing or watching movies etc. The fact that it’s “there” and available makes it attractive for everyone, whether they have a legitimate purpose for its use or not. With newer technologies like 3G, LTE and 4G penetrating our lives and more so with the start of the smart-phone era accessing the Internet has become easy, convenient and to some extent affordable. While this brings a world of opportunities at our fingertips it also puts us and specially the children at risk to a myriad of risks lurking out there in the “dark Internet”. To put it in plain words, the Internet is not a safe place for children, there are hazards out there, some documented some still not documented. Leaving children unguided to use the mobile technology is like leaving kids out in a jungle with no cover and protection to explore and learn. So with opportunities come risks, which we have to guard and take measures against. The purpose of this post is to apprise the reader with issues related to use of Mobile Technology by children.
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The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child enumerates the children rights in a very elaborate manner. It advocates the access to information and latest technologies to the children, to engage in cultural activities, arts and leisure, seek out knowledge related to health and nutrition issues, on the one hand, at the other it seeks out to protect the child from all sorts of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. When seen in the context of the Internet and mobile technology this “sexual exploitation” and “sexual abuse” become really big problems considering that the Internet is vastly unbridled, where people are anonymous and assuming identities isn’t an issue. In plain words a person with ill intent can become anyone, anytime, anywhere without disclosing his/her identity. And this fact puts the children at a greater risk in the virtual world then the real world. So what should one do? Should we restrict children from using technology altogether? Should it be supervised and controlled? Should we snoop on children? Or does there exist a middle ground, where some sort of balance can be maintained? The answer isn’t a simple yes or no. It’s like going shopping and not falling for temptations, it’s like going for a hunt and not getting hurt and more so it’s like trying to fly not without the risk of falling down.
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According to the ITU there are over 6 billion mobile phone connections the world over and 3 billion mobile phone users. With newer technologies like 3G and LTE covering more and more areas mobile phone penetration is going to increase even more. According to a GSMA Intelligence report 90% of the world population is now covered by (2G in most cases and almost 73% by 3G at least). How many of these are children? Is anybody’s guess, and how many are pedophiles? How many are looking to exploit children? How many are looking to engage them in sexual activities or trafficking? In short to say it’s difficult to fathom the problem, but the fact is that cases have emerged world over indicating that evil does exist and it needs to be controlled.
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Looking for solutions! So now we know that the Internet and mobile penetration is increasing daily at an alarming pace so how do we protect children in the “dark Internet”? The solution is not simply to prevent kids from using technology, as this is akin to depriving them of their rights. In fact a simple solution to this lesser known problem does not exist. It will and should encompass a holistic approach at different tiers starting from the lowest to the highest involving all stakeholders. The following is a list of actions to be taken at various levels to circumvent the problem.
- Involve all stakeholders. So who all are the stakeholders? The children, their parents, society, schools, government, NGOs, ISPs, Telecom operators, Regulators and Law enforcement agencies.
- Spread awareness about this menace at all levels through electronic as well as print media.
- Collect data regarding excesses committed by criminals and children that have been exploited.
- Make a Helpline to identify the issue and give a chance to the (abused) children to speak up.
- Make regulations for the country specifying roles of all stake holders.
- Make amendments to the school curriculum to educate children.
- Hold seminars to spread awareness on the issue inviting the society and specially parents.
- Make necessary amendments in the laws related to cyberspace and cyber-crime. Punish those found guilty according to these laws.
- Identify various types of cyber-crimes related to children and their exploitation in the virtual world.
The problem of children online sexual exploitation is not a simple one and no single solution exists to control this menace. It will have to be tackled at different levels according to the local conditions prevalent in a particular country or society. Unfortunately absence of awareness and hence laws on the issue makes this problem even more complicated. So the most important step would be to spread awareness about it and then logically follow other steps to control and finally eradicate this illness.
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