As more Nigerians embrace the internet, including children, new research has established that minors in Nigeria are now exposed to a lot of risks online. This calls for more actions on the part of parents and caretakers to protect their wards as they navigate cyberspace. SAMSON AKINTARO reports
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) last year, the Internet has become a necessity for all households, including children, who now connect online with their schools and teachers for remote learning. This, however, comes with a lot of risks as the Internet, all over the world, is replete with lots of dubious characters marauding cyberspace for whom to attack. Research conducted by team at the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has further confirmed this threat. From the study, a staggering 93 per cent of kids between ages 11 and 16 use the internet on their mobile phones without any safety measures in place.
Internet criminals adopt several styles, which include reconnaissance, social engineering or catfishing, grooming, sexting, sextortion and consuming to exploit children online. Perpetrators of reconnaissance carry out online searches and visits various online forums to identify which platforms they can join and can conceal themselves and identify vulnerable children. For social engineering or catfishing, the perpetrator uses a false identity and tricks on the child to reveal personal information about themselves and their families that could be used on the victims. Grooming perpetrators use deception to gather intelligence about the child to build emotional relationships, trust and affection to manipulate, exploit and abuse the victims later.
Those who engage in sexting use force, bribes, tricks and persuasion to get the victims online and into sexually explicit acts. They connect via smartphones with webcams to share sexually explicit photos, images and livestreaming of themselves and the child inappropriately either off or online.
Perpetrators use threats to try to extort money, information or sexual favours from their victims by threatening to reveal their sexually explicit activities that they have secretly recorded unlawfully on social media.
The research findings
According to the report of the study conducted by the research department of NCC, Nigerian children between the age range of 11 and 16 years face huge risks online as 93 per cent of them go online, using their mobile phones, without any safeguard. The survey research, which focused on two age ranges, 11 to 16 and four to 10 years also found that 45 per cent of children in the latter age range also go online with their mobile phones, indicating a high rate of phone ownership among children in Nigeria. According to the researchers, 7,013 respondents were surveyed across Nigeria. While the respondents included children, parents and teachers, 5,681, representing 81 per cent, were children. “The least popular means of access to the Internet for both age groups is the school. The implication of this is that children often go online mostly through means that are not as actively moderated as either the Internet café or the school. “The aggregate effect is that children are inadvertently exposed to more online risks than would have been the case were they to use their schools’ devices to get online,” the researcher stated. The researchers added that based on the findings, the majority of children in Nigeria receive little or no curation with their online activities from either parents or guardians. “Most parents appear not to have rules about their children’s Internet use, particularly with time limits and site restrictions,” they observed. According to the findings, a staggering 56 per cent of the 11 to 16-year olds in both urban and rural areas do not have any form of restriction on their Internet use. “The aggregate implication of this is that this bunch of youngsters can become digital nomads at liberty to wander the cybersphere tethered only by the elasticity of their data bundles,” the researchers said. They noted that perhaps because of the tenderness of age or ownership of a device, more of the four to 10 years old children than their 11 to 16 years old compatriots enjoy parental moderation of their Internet consumption with 94 per cent enjoying mediation in one form or the other, ranging from time limits to restriction of access.
The NCC’s research findings were buttressed by the 2020 Child Online Safety Index report, which ranked Nigerian children sixth globally in disordered use of technology. The country came behind countries such as Oman, which is rated number one in children misuse of technology, followed by the United Kingdom (2nd), Uruguay (3rd), Philippines (4th) and Thailand (5th). The rating is based on four indices – the severity of gaming disorder symptoms; the percentage of children at risk of gaming disorder; the severity of social media disorder symptoms and the percentage of children at risk for social media disorder. According to the report, digital technology addictions manifest in different forms, including excessive viewing of video clips, compulsive video game-playing and uncontrolled browsing and chatting on social media. Disordered use of technology arises when an individual engages in online activities at the cost of fulfilling daily responsibilities or pursuing other interests and without regard for the negative consequences.
Call for action
In their recommendations, the researchers urge mobile network operators (MNOs) in the country to ensure content is classified in line with existing national standards of decency and appropriateness to identify content unsuitable for viewing by children. They also advised the network service providers to provide appropriate means for parents and schools to control children’s access to content classified as only suitable for adult customers in equivalent media. Schools and teachers were advised to develop educational materials for parents and guardians on how they can support young children in learning and acquiring digital and critical thinking skills for a balanced life. They are also to develop and promote communication strategies outlining how parents can talk to young children about managing online risks and actively mediate their use. The researchers also recommended that parents should set reasonable rules and guidelines for computer use by their children. “Discuss these rules and post them near the computer as a reminder; remember to monitor your children’s compliance with these rules, especially when it comes to the amount of time your children spend on the computer. A child’s excessive use of online services or the Internet, especially late at night, may be a clue that there is a potential problem,” they stated.
The findings of the NCC research are a wakeup call to every parent and caretaker in Nigeria to put adequate safety measures in place for the protection of their children as they go online. While the world has gone digital and young ones should not be stopped from exploring the internet, they must be properly guided and monitored.