The results of a survey conducted amongst secondary school learners in Gauteng have brought about renewed concerns over the safety of children accessing the internet. Conducted by the Youth Research Unit at the Bureau of Market Research at UNISA, the study uncovered that many children are being groomed for sexual purposes by online predators, and that widespread access to the internet has contributed to the sexualisation of children at an extremely young age.
The study comes ahead of an international campaign aiming to highlight internet safety, and the risks children face from internet exposure.
“The main concerning statistic we gained was that relating to the online sexual grooming of children, which is a reality,” explained Youth Research Unit researcher, Goodnessa Ntombentle Zulu.
“What we have found is that sexual predators have now found an easier way to get closer to kids than in the physical space.”
Zulu said that with a lack of parental supervision to keep tabs on how children were using the internet and respective social media platforms, this was a creating a conducive and easy environment for predators.
The study also showed that statistically, such cases were not limited to children of a specific background.
“We’ve found that any child is bound to be a victim in this manner. However, there are children who are more vulnerable than others. This is especially those with family problems and that freely talk about sex on the internet,” she explained.
Such cases are most noted on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, where easy access to accounts has allowed perpetrators to befriend large groups of children at once.
“With the internet the child is unable to see who is on the other side. People can pretend to be younger and communicate with children as if they are of a similar age. The child starts to relax a bit and gains the trust of the person,” said Zulu, further noting that there was a risk that arrangements could be made by the two parties for meet ups.
Tuesday will mark the 11th edition of a global campaign called Safer Internet Day (SID), geared at promoting “safer and more responsible use of online technology”.
On a local front, several governmental departments and NGO’s including the Department of Education, Childline SA and the UNISA Youth Research Unit, will mark the campaign with learners at 10 different schools across Gauteng.
For more information on the campaign, visit the websitehttp://www.saferinternetday.org. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)