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Why do we need to be cyber smart?

The Internet is an information highway that leads to networks of computers that are linked to each other through servers. Comprising hundreds of thousands of computers and millions of computer users, the information in this "cyber world" represents almost the entire store of human knowledge.

It is the Internet that makes it possible for anyone to access and use this vast storehouse of knowledge – for good or for bad.

It provides unlimited opportunities for education, entertainment as well as for communicating with people all over the world. It has contracted the world but has also expanded our horizons.

For more and more people, the Internet is a part of daily life at work, at home and at play. We can now do almost everything online: banking, pay bills, shop, chat to friends, watch movies, play games – and even choose to commit crime.

For children, the Internet offers extraordinary opportunities for creative learning, information and for communicating with peers in different parts of the world. This helps to strengthen pluralism and cultural diversity.

But the Internet also provides opportunities for criminal activities and puts children at considerable risk of becoming victims of paedophiles and child molesters. Children with unsupervised access to the Internet and without advice and guidance on internet safety are most at risk.

Just as children are taught to be "street smart" to recognise dangers and avoid risks in the real world, they have to be "cyber smart" to recognise and avoid dangers when online.

How do paedophiles and child molesters use the Internet?

  1. There are four main ways that those who want to abuse children use to contact and communicate with your child:

    • websites
    • email
    • chat rooms
    • instant messaging

    A website is like a library, created by individuals, organisations, businesses and educational institutions, that holds all kinds of information that anyone can access.

    While most websites contain useful and informative information, there are some which carry material this is disturbing and harmful to children. There are thousands of pornographic websites which carry pornographic pictures, including child pornography or child abuse images. Your child should be protected from being exposed to such pictures because of the impact they may have on the development of your child.

    Email, or "electronic mail", allows text messages to sent, almost instantly, between people who have email addresses. You can also send and receive pictures by email.

    A chat room is a space where people can meet and talk to each other online. Users sometimes need a password to enter a chat room. People use nicknames or screen names ("handles") in a chat room. Generally, all people signed into a chat room can read the messages, although most have facilities to allow people to hold a private chat.

    Because you only converse through typed messages, it is impossible to know the real identity, age or gender of people you meet in chat rooms. This allows people to assume identities behind which they can hide.

    Paedophiles and child molesters use chat rooms to find and identify victims, and to gain their trust. In this way, they hope to entice a child into an "offline" meeting.

    Instant messaging is a way of exchanging text or typed messages with a person, or even a group, over the Internet. ICQ ("I seek you"), for example, allows you to chat, send and receive pictures and exchange files and information.

  2. What are the risks to children using the Internet?

    There are two main risks to children using the Internet: Internet contact and Internet content.

    Contact

    As your child can't see the person at the other end of the computer, they can't know if that person is male or female, young or old. Your child has no way knowing if that person is who they say they are. And, most importantly, there is no way of knowing what the intention of that person is or what his interests are in your child. It may be that he is a paedophile or child molester looking for his next victim.

    The paedophile may pose as someone of the same age as your child. He may try to strike up a friendship with your child and, by asking a few seemingly innocent questions and pretending to share the same interests and hobbies as your child, gain your child’s confidence and eventually suggest an "offline" meeting.

    Paedophiles use simple questions to try and gain information that they may use to try and physically locate your child: How old are you? How tall are you? Which school do you go to? Do you play any sports? Do you practice every day? Where do you practice? What is your favourite colour?

    By asking deceptively simple questions, the paedophile is able to glean important information about a child. The opportunity for physically locating and meeting up with your child is made easier by seemingly innocent bits of information.

    As using the Internet can give a child a false sense of security, especially if accessed from home, they may easily be persuaded into giving out personal information, and even contact details to complete strangers, without realising that they are unwittingly exposing themselves to risks.

    Content

    Content that is potentially disturbing, harmful or inappropriate for children accounts for less than 5% of all the information available on the Internet. But the likelihood that your child may stumble across material, especially images, that may be totally unsuitable or even disturbing and harmful, is far greater than the likelihood that your child would stumble across educational or informative materials.

    Purveyors of pornography make use of every opportunity and trick to spread their material as widely as possible. Even if your child is not "surfing" the Internet for pornography, a simple misplaced letter in a word could open a pornographic website. Pornography comes looking for Internet users, not always the other way round.

    Pornography is not the only content that your child might be exposed to unwittingly. Violent and racist materials are also harmful to children and there are many websites devoted to such material.

    What can you do to protect your child from Internet predators?

    Learn to recognise warning signs

    Be aware and take note of the warning signs that your child may be in trouble, such as if he or she:

    • Spends long hours on the Internet, especially in the evenings.
    • Receives calls from people you do not know or makes calls to numbers you do not recognise.
    • Receives gifts or mail from people you have never met or know to be friends of your child.
    • Does not join in family activities but prefers to spend more time on a computer.
    • Is not open to discussing her or his Internet activities with you.
    • Turns off the computer or changes the screen quickly when anyone comes within "seeing" distance of the computer screen.
    • Prefers to be alone when using the computer.
    • Is, in some recognisable or visible way, behaving differently from the way he or she used to behave when not spending as much time on the computer.
    • Has pornography on their computer.
    • Gives you reason to believe they may be in contact with someone who could turn out to be an Internet predator, "grooming" your child in the hope of arranging a face-to-face meeting.

    Find out about the language of chat rooms

    Some understanding of "chat lingo" is essential. For instance, if you see your child typing a message that reads "BRBPAW", you should be suspicious because that means "I will be right back because my parents are watching".

    A message that reads "Btw RU VGL" means "By the way, are you very good looking".

    You may have reason to be concerned if you see "PM ASL", which means, "Private Message. What is your age, sex and location?"

    Remember that your child probably knows a lot more about computers than you. It is worth making a little effort to understand what the Internet is all about so that you can properly understand what your child tells you when you ask about their Internet activities.

    Empower your child

    Your child is entitled to privacy and is a beneficiary of the constitutional right to freedom of expression. However, that right to privacy and freedom of expression stops when there is a real risk of harm to your child. More than a moral obligation, you have a legal obligation to protect your child from harm or even the risk of harm.

    However, denying your child the use of a computer and access to the Internet is not the answer. Rather empower your child to use the internet in a safe and responsible manner. Teach your child how to maximise the positive benefits of the Internet without the risk of becoming a victim of Internet predators.

    What is Child Pornography?

    What is child pornography?

    Child pornography comprises images and descriptions of children being sexually abused and tortured. In fact, many jurisdictions use the term "child abuse images" because that describes more accurately what child pornography is all about: the torture and abuse of children for sexual gratification and profit.

    Child pornography is a highly organised, multimillion-dollar industry, profiting from the abuse of children all over the world. And the Internet is the preferred medium for its distribution, although mobile phones are increasingly being used – both for the creation and the distribution of images.

    Every child who has access to the Internet, either via a computer or a mobile phone, is a potential victim of paedophiles and child abusers.

    Paedophiles and child abusers use child pornography:

    • to groom and seduce children by lowering their inhibitions into accepting sex with adults as "normal, acceptable and pleasurable" acts and that "everybody is doing it";
    • to instruct children on how to perform specific sexual acts;
    • to trade and exchange collections of child pornography, thus stimulating demand for more child pornography; and
    • to blackmail and threaten children into silence about what is being done to them.

    What are the laws concerning child pornography?

    Child pornography and the law

    Child pornography is the only category of materials that is completely prohibited, on pain of criminal sanctions, from creation, possession and distribution in most countries.

      In South Africa, in terms of the Films and Publications Act (1996), it is an offence to:

      • be in possession of, or
      • create or produce or assist in the creation or production of, or
      • import or take steps to procure, obtain or access, or
      • knowingly export, broadcast or distribute or cause to be exported, broadcast or distributed
      • any film or publication that contains child pornography or which advocates, advertises or promotes child pornography or the sexual exploitation of children.

      A person convicted of any of the above offences may be sentenced to a maximum of 10 years imprisonment for each of the above offences.

      The Films and Publications Act also makes it an offence to expose any person under the age of 18 years to materials with images or descriptions of sexual conduct.

      Failure to report knowledge or suspicions about any person involved with child pornography is also an offence, as is the failure to take steps to prevent access, by any person under the age of 18 years, to materials containing images or descriptions of sexual conduct under one’s control.

    Glossary of some expressions associated with the Internet

    Glossary of Internet terms

    Attachment: a file, sent as part of an email, containing information in the form of sounds or texts or pictures.

    Chat room: a place or a "room" on the Internet where people from anywhere in the world can enter, by using passwords and nicknames, to chat, exchange and share information, including pictures, with others in the "room".

    Web browser: a computer software program that lets you browse or search or surf the Internet, such as Internet Explorer or Safari.

    Download: to transfer information, pictures, films and even music from a website to be saved in your computer.

    Email: mail sent electronically, via the Internet, from one computer to another computer.

    Filter: computer software that enables you to block certain content and websites from appearing on your computer.

    Instant messaging: a way of communicating, through typed messages, with someone else via the Internet. It is similar to ending an SMS via cellular phones. People use a special language – "chat lingo" – when sending instant messages. For instance, "BRBPAW" means "be right back parents are watching"; "btw" stands for "by the way"; "RU VGL" asks "are you very good looking".

    Internet Service Provider (ISP): companies that provide access to the Internet for a fee. MWeb and Telkom, for instance, are ISPs.

    Summary of useful tips.

    Tips to keep your children safe

    Train your child to be cyber smart so that they can recognise potential dangers and know how to avoid threatening situations.

    Talk to your children about sexual victimisation and the use of the Internet, especially of chat rooms, by paedophiles and child molesters looking for child victims. Encourage your children to tell you if they receive messages which make them feel uncomfortable or threatened, especially messages of a sexual nature.

    Your supervision of your children’s daily lives to ensure their safety should apply equally to their lives online.

    Remember that your child might have access to the Internet outside your home, such as in a school or library or a friend’s home or on their mobile phone. The more your children know and understand about being cyber smart, the safer their exploration of the Internet.

    Spend time with your children when they are online and ask them to tell you about what they are doing and what they enjoy about the Internet. Show interest in their Internet activities.

    If your child has ever been involved in any form of online sexual exploitation, even if willingly, make sure they understand that they are the victim of unscrupulous abusers of the Internet and it is not "their fault".

    Make sure your child’s computer is in a room used by the family and not in the child’s bedroom.

    Monitor your child’s use of chat rooms. Make sure you know enough about chat rooms to advise your child about chat rooms which should be avoided. Direct your child to safe chat rooms, especially those which have been created for children. And, most importantly, tell your children to:

    • never arrange or agree to any face-to-face meeting with any person they met online;
    • never post to the Internet, or send to people they do not personally know, any pictures of themselves;
    • never give out any personal information about themselves, even if the information seems unimportant and innocent, to any person online;
    • never download pictures from an unknown source since there could be sexually explicit images;
    • never respond to messages online that are sexually suggestive, obscene, aggressive or harassing;
    • never believe as true anything that may be said by people online. Remind them that people online are not always who they pretend to be and paedophiles are adept at pretending to be of the same age as your child;
    • never open email attachments unless they know the person sending them and know what they contain, and
    • never enter a private chat room.

    Make sure you check your child’s emails and that your child knows that you will do so. Assure your child that you will do so not because you do not trust them but to ensure that they are safe from those who could harm him or her. Better yet, share an email address with your child so that you can monitor all messages. You should also check your phone bills for unusual amounts and unfamiliar phone numbers.

    Consider installing filtering software in computers used by your children. This software can be programmed to block access to websites that contain materials to which children should not be exposed. However, remember that filtering software does not guarantee your child will not stumble across unsuitable material. It should rather be seen as a useful complement to all the other measures you would need to take to ensure that your child is safe on the Internet.

    Useful links

    Filtering software may be downloaded from the Internet. It is useful to talk to your Internet service provider or to someone who knows about filtering and parental control programs. (You can find a directory of filtering software programmes at www.getnetwise.org/tools.

    You can get more information about filtering and blocking software at www.pin.org.uk/filtering.

    You can also talk to your Internet service provider about rating systems that rely on website operators to indicate the nature of the materials on their websites. Internet browsers can be configured to allow children to visit only websites that are rated at a level that are suitable for children. Note, however, that not all websites are submitted for rating.

     

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