Why children must be protected as the world heightens its digital space

A cyber safety session in progress at Simba Safe and Missing Child Kenya. Picture Courtesy
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Many times parents and guardians worry about their children’s safety and security. And at no other time has this been given priority than today where the internet is posing challenges at a rate that even the security forces are unable to cope up.

However, there are people who have realized that children must also be trained on security issues, and particularly the girl child who remains most vulnerable.

One such person is Maryana Munyendo, founder and lead trainer of Simba Safe and Missing Child Kenya.

The Missing Child Kenya team provides free resources for the search of missing children between the ages of zero to 18 years.

Simba Safe is a personal safety education programme where children and young adults are taught age appropriate safety skills necessary to protect themselves in risky situations which have become a part and parcel of the modern world.

“Personal safety education programmes are crucial especially in an era where children can easily access the Cybercafé,” Munyendo explains.

Age appropriate safety skills

She has, therefore, taken the lead in teaching age appropriate safety skills to ensure that children enjoy the digital

Maryana Munyendo, founder and lead trainer of Simba Safe and Missing Child Kenya. Picture:Courtesy

Maryana Munyendo, founder and lead trainer of Simba Safe and Missing Child Kenya. Picture:Courtesy

world without being vulnerable.

According to Munyendo, children have expressed a great affinity for the Internet and though this is crucial to their growth and development, if it is not monitored and safety mechanisms put in place, then it could be counterproductive.

Age appropriate skills are necessary and it is for this reason that Munyendo favours schools which provide many children at the same time but also in age clusters.

The primary goal is to ensure that children are not only proactive but assertive “whereby they can say no if someone is luring them into activities that they do not want to engage in”.

Munyendo says that due to the digital era, children are learning the Internet at a safer rate than their own parents hence the need for parents to make time to ensure that they are aware of the things that captivate their children online.

“There is a lot of age inappropriate content online which children can easily access so it is very advisable that parent create a safe space where children can discuss what they encounter online,” she expounds.

In Africa, among the countries that have achieved significant Internet penetration, Kenya is second to only Nigeria and Egypt as of 2015, the two leading countries have a larger population which means that Kenya is moving at a very high speed.

Statistics on internet usage

Within this context, it is therefore not surprising that out of the 43 million Kenyans — 46 percent adults and 54 percent under 19 years — 37.7 million are mobile cellular subscribers.

There are 35.5 million Internet users with further statistics estimating that Internet subscribers are at least 23 million.

Munyendo says that children are largely at risk due to their own nature of curiosity and training the said children, parents, teachers and even nannies on digital and or online safety is key.

This is even more so especially due to increasing cases of paedophiles hiding behind the screen to lure children.

“We must, therefore, ensure that online crime is monitored and that the online culture that promotes vulnerability of children is addressed,” she expounds.

According to Munyendo, parents must themselves observe online etiquette by not contributing to aggressive and abrasive language and even bullying whereby children begin to think that it is acceptable to insult and bully others.

“Children are themselves bullying each other because that is the culture they observe online so we must be careful,” she says.

Besides observing and cultivating online safety, Munyendo works in a consortium called the Missing Child Kenya where various individuals, organizations and stakeholders provide their expertise to ensure that missing children are found within the shortest time possible.

The consortium helps in spreading the word far and wide as well as advising on how the posters of the missing child should be designed.

“For instance, people have a habit of sending old pictures that are not clear and the names are also often a problem,” she says.

Know your name

She talks of children who do not even know their own names or that of their parents. Munyendo stresses that training children about who they are and who their parents are is important.

“Some children when asked what their names are they say ‘baby’ so it becomes very difficult to work with such a case,” Munyendo observes.

For instance, when a child goes missing in Nairobi it’s important for parents to go to the Milimani Children’s Court where the children are taken on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

“If the child is not claimed they are then registered as a ward of the State and taken to a children’s home,” she says.

Munyendo looks forward to an environment where children are safe whether online or offline. She encourages others to join hands since it takes a village to raise a child.

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