GOVERNMENT and stakeholders must collaborate in adopting the recently launched International Telecommunications union (ITU) child online protection guidelines to guarantee child online protection as children become more vulnerable in the use of digital media.
BY HARRIET CHIKANDIWA
Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) director-general Gift Machengete made the call in his speech read on his behalf by the regulatory authority’s head of consumer affairs and publicity, George Manyaya, at the Childline Online Safety Guidelines launch yesterday.
Machengete said children had become exposed to digital media due to circumstances including the COVID-19 induced lockdown that has necessitated e-learning, hence the need for parents and stakeholders to be vigilant in ensuring their safety.
“How can we ensure an effective child protection system in Zimbabwe?
“It is now the right time Zimbabwe starts reflecting on the need to come up with standalone legislation on child online protection,” Machengete said.
“As the regulator of the telecommunications sector, we will be leading all stakeholders in adopting the comprehensive ITU child online protection guidelines and an aggressive campaign will be conducted in schools and communities across the country.”
He added: “The internet has transformed how we live.
“It is entirely integrated into the lives of children and young people, making it impossible to consider the physical and digital worlds separately.”
At least one-third of all internet users today are children and young people with Unicef estimating that 71% of young people are already online.
Machengete said as a result of the COVID-19 induced lockdown, most children are spending time online where there encounter all sorts of challenges including cyberbullying and pornography that needs a hands-on approach by parents to overcome.
“While the internet has brought about convenience owing to rapid digital transformation, it has also brought about a plethora of challenges.
“Children are exposed to various vulnerabilities and there has been an increase in the misuse of technology.
“Several children are accessing various sites even without their parents’ consent.
“We are providing these gadgets to children but they are accessing sites like Tinder, house party, Instagram, Facebook and Tik Tok without their parents’ or guardians’ consent.”
He said issues of cyberbullying were also rampant while most children were also engaging in sexting and pornography despite glaring effects to their lives.
“Some are sending too many pictures online for example on Tik Tok and Facebook, exposing themselves and their families.”
The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Machengete said, was in the process of adopting the Child Online Protection Guidelines as part of its quest to ensure maximum protection of children online.
He said the issue of children online protection was a collective responsibility hence parents; guardians, government non-governmental organisations and other stakeholders should play a part as children remain vulnerable online.
The Potraz boss said the regulatory authority was playing its part through the consumer awareness programmes held across the country but were halted due to the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.
With the assistance of Potraz, Machengete said, Childline now has a toll free line where children can call when they need help adding that it was time for lawmakers to reflect on the need to have “standalone legislation” on children’s online protection.
Childline director Stella Motsi said courtesy of Potraz’s assistance towards the toll free line, over 2000 children are calling Childline daily, while 50 000 are calling a month and being assisted.