Daunting data

January 19, 2020

Together, our parents and elders can ensure our online safety just like they do in other matters

After the 2015 Usmanwala child abuse case, and the Zainab incident in 2018, public awareness on such issues led to reporting of similar cases from all over the country.

Some of the features common to these cases are abduction, rape, blackmailing the family to keep quiet, and also (frequently) the murder of the child victim.

While the alleged culprits are traced, apprehended and charged under relevant laws, most cases take long to reach a conclusion.

Where these cases got a lot of publicity — social media played a key role here — they weren’t the only incidents of their kind, nor — unfortunately — will these be the last. After Zainab Ansari’s rape and murder, the Ministry of Human Rights launched a public awareness campaign on electronic and social media focused on ways to protect children from physical harm and especially from strangers in different settings. Sahil, an organisation working against child abuse, said in a report, “The data on child abuse incidents shows that a total of 3,832 cases were reported in newspapers during the year 2018.” (The figures were collected from across Pakistan.)

The figures show that number of cases has increased by more than 10 percent, as compared to 2017’s 3,445. “55 percent of the victims were girls and 45 percent boys.”

Lahore, the second largest metropolitan city in Pakistan, reported the largest number of such cases.

Child abuse is not a recent phenomenon; it has happened in the past and was usually not reported due to many reasons. However, the situation took a turn with the advent of the Internet, as people not only started engaging in e-commerce, e-communication, and other forms of interaction, many took it as an opportunity for illegal activities.

Today, stalking and luring children seems to have become common on the Internet. The predators are on the hunt for children who may easily fall in their trap. They contact children in online chatrooms, instant messaging platforms, and social media groups, email/discussion boards, and lure their targets with lucrative offers which many children find hard to refuse.

The predators usually play on the emotions of children and teenagers, especially those with unresolved personal issues and in need of emotional support, because it is easy for them to trap their targets. Some offer gifts, invest money, devote their time and energy in the hope to gain the personal details of their targets.

Once the children open up, the predators begin introducing sexual content in their chats. From there onwards they proceed to all kinds of mischief, such as making videos, livestreaming their ‘encounter,’ and selling the recordings to others on the Dark Web.

The Guardian reported in October 2018 that pedophiles in the UK were targeting children in poor countries for online abuse.

Pakistan was not in the countries listed in the Guardian report, nevertheless children become easy targets as they use the Internet not only for educational purposes but also for connecting with friends on social media. So, the parents need to understand the seriousness of the issue and keep a check on their child’s activities in the online space.

Today, parents, teachers, their peers and family members need to understand that the children are growing up in a world that is drastically different from what it was in their early years. Today the children are exposed to electronic devices and internet at a very young age. These devices make them vulnerable to strangers who give them attention, appreciate them, or bully them in online spaces which most children do not know how to deal with. This calls for today’s parents to monitor their children’s online activities, even if they end up annoying the children.

Here are some tips for parents who find themselves in similar situations:

• Build a healthy and comfortable relationship with children so that they can communicate with you without fear

• If you feel something is wrong, be kind, and make your children feel safe. They should be sure that you will protect them from harm

• Educate children on the importance of not sharing personal details online, talking to strangers, or sharing pictures

• Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) on all your devices to protect location, so children cannot be tracked online

• Make sure you know who your kids are communicating with in online spaces. Even if it’s friends or relatives, keep a check on their interactions.

• In case a stranger tries to approach a child through social media, explore the options to report to authorities immediately

• Keep record of the chats and all data available

• Parental controls must be used on any device used by children, to help keep the children away from explicit content and accidentally stumbling into something dangerous. Use age-appropriate settings to filter, monitor and block activities. While these are not 100 percent effective they can go a long way to stop exposure to harm

• Talk to your children

• Impose a time limit on mobile/PC usage

• The parents should install monitoring tools alert so they can keep a check on their children’s online activity without blocking access. It can be used with or without the child’s knowledge

The world today is becoming insecure in many ways. Together, parents and elders can ensure online safety children like they do in other matters!

The writer is a staff member

Online safety: Daunting data