IN today’s global Information Communication Technologies (ICT) era, children are mostly affected by cyber abuse. To this effect, Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA) in partnership the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) will today start running a three-day workshop in Livingstone to sensitise stakeholders on child online protection (COP) and subsequently formulate a national strategy framework that will promote responsible use of ICT among the young people.
THE rampant development of the ICT industry in the recent past has seen it being acknowledged as a major contributor to the global economy. It also has seen an increase in youth participation who have more than ever before, become ardent users of ICTs.
However, this positive development brings with it challenges as perpetrators of criminal activities have also got more sophisticated and ICT savvy to try and manipulate those using cyber space for communication and business transactions.
Furthermore, increasingly, trade and business transactions are often being conducted via online in the country. Just as in physical transactions, online transactions are also exposed to vices such as financial fraud, identity theft, online scam and several other threats.
Today’s young active users of ICTs, have not been spared from the negative impact of cyber space misuse. Apart from business related dangers, the internet also poses dangers to the social environment of Zambia through vices such as online bullying, damage to reputation, social fraud and numerous other dangers.
It is a known fact that children and the youth in general, are the heaviest and largest consumers of all forms of ICTs. With the upsurge of incidences of cyber abuse, COP has become a very important subject matter across the world.
This is because there has increasingly been need to ensure that children having access to cyber space are protected from exposure to all forms of violence such as bullying and pornography. However, to effectively give the necessary support to this category of users of ICTs in Zambia, there is need to, not only develop a proper framework but that the issue of cyber safety for the young is looked at holistically through collaboration with all key stakeholders.
Although locally, various government agencies mandated to look into the welfare of children and promote their rights have been committed to their role, efforts to address the issue of COP have in the past been fragmented. This has been coupled with little empirical evidence regarding the level of exposure of the young, to cyber space and activities that go on there.
In November 2013, ZICTA took a step towards enhancing collaborative effort in addressing the issue of COP by signing a memorandum of understanding with UNICEF and later, holding a joint symposium to look into the issues affecting children online.
With the view of finding a solution to data deficit, ZICTA recently undertook a baseline survey to assess the current levels of COP and awareness in Zambia. The survey sought to obtain insight into online risks and illicit content.
It must be noted that youths are particularly receptive to various services that the internet has to offer. Users among the youths included those that are legally considered to be below adulthood (10 to 18 years).
However, the survey found that children as young as five years in Zambia, also use the internet. Patterns of internet usage among children under the age of 10 were not covered because the age group was outside the scope of the survey. Therefore, it would be necessary in a follow-up survey to find out patterns of internet usage in this age group because, evidently, this category of the young has become active users of ICTs and do have access to cyber space.
The findings of this survey prompted ZICTA in collaboration with Ministry of Transport Works Supply and Communications to embark on the development of a National Strategy Framework on COP and in so doing, ensure collaborative participation by all key stakeholders responsible for the welfare of children.
The COP strategy framework will be developed this week at a three day workshop organised by ZICTA with the support of the ITU– the United Nation agency responsible for ICTs, who have provided support by providing regional and international COP experts as resource persons to the workshop slated for March 26-28, 2014 at Zambezi Sun Hotel in Livingstone, is designed to facilitate capacity building and awareness with the objective of empowering experts and policy makers from around Zambia. It shall also include local resource persons from the government, Zambia Police and the media among others.
Furthermore, it will discuss the landscape of activities on protection of children online within the country and develop a practical and effective framework for protection of children online that can be implemented in Zambia.
COP has its roots in five pillars namely; legal, technical, organisational and procedural issues as well as capacity building and international cooperation. These where launched in November 2008 by ITU as a COP initiative to bring together partners from all sectors of the global community to ensure a safe and secure online experience for children everywhere
Using the five pillars of COP as a yardstick, ZICTA with all its stakeholders will monitor the framework on a regular basis to ensure that the set goals and objectives of the framework are met.
Local participants in the workshop include, government departments responsible for children’s welfare, ICT service providers, non-governmental organisations, relevant regulatory bodies, Asinaka Network, Zambia’s youth representatives to last year’s ITU Youth Summit held in Costa Rica as well as members of local ICT clubs. The Asinkana Network will represent the Girl Child who is most vulnerable to cyber abuse.
ZICTA has over the last two years, established over 100 ICT clubs in schools countrywide which provide a platform to disseminate information on COP to the young people. This helps create awareness even as ICTs are made available to the young people.
ZICTA focuses on ensuring that young people are empowered with knowledge and access to ICTs and most importantly, in the recent past, with information on how best to use these ICTs responsibly and stay cyber safe.