Child Protection in a Digital World

Child Protection Week is an awareness campaign run every year in the last week of May. 

For Child Protection Week this year, Sozo has decided to focus on Child Protection in a Digital World. A survey conducted amongst our learners at Sozo revealed that 32% of our learners had direct contact with people they don’t personally know on social media. Similar findings were reflected in the nationally representative ‘SA Kids Online Study’ in 2020, which found that 70% of the participants used the internet without consent. In addition, 25% of the participants added people they have never met in person to their friends or contact list, and 18% have sent personal images or videos to someone they have never met in person (Unicef SA, 2022).

As an effect of Covid and an increased reliance on online schooling, South African children have greater access to the internet than ever before. Increased internet access has many advantages and is essential if our children are able to participate in an increasingly digital world. However, with these advantages come many risks that should be mitigated through education, which is often lacking: The SA Kids Online Study also revealed that only 41% of the participants had received any information about online safety (Unicef SA, 2022).

Children must be equipped with the skills to keep themselves safe online. Schools, community organisations and parents can play a role in empowering children to stay safe online. Here are some basic tips for families to educate their children about online safety:

Oversharing:
Children should be taught not to share private information such as their location, phone numbers or address. Parents and caregivers should also talk to their children about the types of photos and videos they post online; it is important to agree as a family on what type of content is appropriate to share.

Talking to people they don’t know:
Research indicates that many children message people they have not met in person, which could put them at risk of being groomed* or exploited by adults. Grooming is the process through which an adult prepares a child to engage in a sexual act. This usually involves building a trusting relationship with the child, which can be exploited. Parents and caregivers should talk to their children about these risks and ensure they know they can talk to them if anything makes them feel uncomfortable.

A distorted perception of reality:
At a developmental stage when children are more susceptible to peer pressure and still figuring out their sense of belonging, it is essential to protect them from excessive pressure. Children should know that social media does not represent everyday life; it is only a highlight reel.

While these tips might be a starting point, staying safe online might look different for every family: It is vital that each family discusses online safety and sets boundaries for their children.

References: Unicef South Africa. 2022. One-third of children in South Africa are at risk of online violence, exploitation and abuse. [online] Available at: https://www.unicef.org/southafrica/press-releases/one-third-children-south-africa-risk-online-violence-exploitation-and-abuse

Written by The Sozo Foundation’s Social Worker Luise Els