The emergence of the internet has broadened accessibility to information and revolutionized networks and communication spaces. Today it has become part and parcel of our lives. The exponential rise in the use of social media and digital technology exposes young people to many risks.
A large portion of violent extremists’ recruitment, for instance, occurs in online platforms. According to the 2018 Global Terrorism Index, Africa alone accounted for 18 of the top 50 countries in the world that bore the brunt of terrorism in 2017. 40% of all recruits into al Shabab terror group are children and youth between 15–19 years. Most of the recruitments happens through the Internet.
Online child sexual exploitation and abuse is also on the rise. In 2018 alone, tech companies reported over 45 million online sexual materials — more than double what was found the previous year. Additionally, according to the FBI there are a total of 750,000 individuals looking to connect with children across the globe for sexual purposes online at any moment. This means there are so many children exposed to and already affected by cyber-bullying, harassment and sextortion.
As much as we desire the Internet to be a transformative tool for our children’s lives, we must take necessary measures to ensure their safety and create a conducive environment for them to thrive online. This year’s theme, “Together for a Better Internet,” is a call to action for all stakeholders to come together and create a better Internet environment for everyone, and especially for the young users. Let us talk to each other about Internet safety. Let us raise awareness on emerging online issues and reflect on sustainable solutions to this modern challenge.
We must talk to our children, engage with them and guide them online. We must develop new ideas that promote parental control features and filter any material that could potentially or actually harm our children and youth. Doing so helps them and secures their dignity online.
Let us partner with faith communities, governments, tech companies and law enforcement agencies to make online spaces safe and useful for children and youth. Let us hold those responsible, accountable.
It starts with you!
Mustafa Y. Ali, Ph.D.
Director, Arigatou International Nairobi, and
Secretary General, Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC).