By Leonah Mbonimpa
Today (February 9, 2016) we celebrate the Safer Internet Day (SID), a day organized on the second day of the second week of the second month, each year. The online safety landscape has evolved over recent years, from a focus on creating a 'safer' internet, to creating a 'better' internet.
The main purpose for this day is to promote safer and more responsible use of online technology and mobile devices, especially, among children and young people.
This year’s theme is: “Play Your Part for a better internet”. The National Information Technology Authority – Uganda has been a leading actor in creating awareness in this area with special emphasis on Child Online Safety in partnership with other entities like the Internet Society Chapter of Uganda.
The National Information Technology Authority-Uganda (NITA-U) is an autonomous statutory body established under the NITA-U Act 2009, to coordinate and regulate Information Technology services in Uganda. NITA-U is under the general supervision of the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MoICT).
The internet has greatly impacted the way we interact in all spheres of life. As a result, we are increasingly connected as a society. Today, our children are steadily adopting the use of the internet supported by the gradual price reduction in both access costs and mobile technology. Whereas the internet offers advantages in the areas of learning and interaction, children are faced with risks due to their vulnerable nature.
There are cyber-criminals that are increasing targeting vulnerable children with malicious intent, damaging interactions towards sexual grooming and exploitation
What’s the gravity? The risks faced by vulnerable children vary with inclusion of major areas such as cyber harassment, exposure to indecent harmful material, online sexual exploitation of children which negatively affects their development and well-being.
What has been done so far? The Computer Misuse Act that was enacted in 2011 contains provisions against cyber bullying, cyber stalking and child pornography. The Law is in effect and criminalizes such acts.
NITA-U collaborated with the Internet Society Uganda to develop the Online Safety Educational Toolkit to educate students on how to recognize online and offline potential internet risks; engage children and the young adults in a two-way conversation about online and offline risks; empower children to help prevent themselves from being exploited online, or to report victimization to a trusted adult; support and enhance community online safety education efforts.
Secondly, a multi-sectoral working group on Child Online Protection has been put in place centered at the Ministry of Internal Affairs with the main purpose of educating all categories of internet users including children on responsible use as well as creating awareness among key stakeholders and duty bearers.
Protecting children online is a global challenge, which requires a global approach.
As part of our contributory role towards this national initiative, NITA-U led the establishment of an online mechanism where citizens in Uganda can report online child sexual abuse material.
This is critical in minimizing the availability of potentially criminal internet content and protecting those vulnerable affected children. For affected children, it particularly assists with protection against repeat victimization and public identification.
This was through collaboration with the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) to put in place the ‘Child Sexual Abuse Reporting Page’ for Uganda.
The OSCARP is an effective solution that leverages the IWF expertise and international collaboration to remove online child sexual abuse content. The portal will be able to support tracing and take down of harmful content, rescue of victims as well as assist in investigations to prosecute cyber criminals.
The writer is a communications officer at NITA-U