The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child mandates States “… to protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.” Although this Charter was adopted since 1990, Africa has fallen quite short of this goal. Child Online abuse pervades all States on the continent and it is important for the African Union to ensure that all children are afforded equal protection, respect and security.
It is quite disappointing that despite cooperative effort in defining, strengthening and giving orientation regarding Information Society in Africa, such as the adoption of the AU Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection, the African Union Expert Committee has been unable to assess if member states have complied with the mandate of its Convention to legislate and criminalize Child pornography or not.
We note that in recent time, the Expert Committee on the Rights and Welfare of the Child adopted Agenda 2030 (The Sustainable Development Goals), Agenda 2063 (The Africa We Want) and Agenda 2040 (Fostering an Africa Fit For Children). However, none of these gave priority to Child Online Protection & Safety. There is the urgent need to put measures in place to treat abused children, identify and prosecute perpetrators, and incorporate professional medical and psychological treatment into children’s rehabilitation process. These actions must happen across board and must attract International Cooperation.
We believe that in order to promote and protect the rights of the child in a digital age, member States must look to orientate and empower children, Social Welfare Officers, law enforcement and other stakeholders regarding protection within the Information Society in Africa’s framework. These would include promoting and mainstreaming Child Online Protection & Safety in Member States, Regional Economic Communities (RCC), Civil Society, Academia and business. However, we recognize the need to combat the circulation of child abuse imagery online whenever they occur and no State is immune to child online abuse.
Children are invaluable to Africa’s development and Africa would achieve significant economic and social gains in the 21st Century if Africans are empowered to use Internet responsibly. Currently, Africa is considered the continent with the youngest population in the world with 63 percent of its population below 29years. Accordingly, we would like to urge the African Union Commission working through ACERWC to design modalities to minimize the availability of child abuse material online without compromising on the children’s rights to privacy and freedom of expression.
Education remains the most useful tool in protecting vulnerable groups. Member States, Regional Economic Communities, industry and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) should collaborate to plan and implement a well-coordinated campaign that educates national populations on various ways children are abused within the Cyber space and what they can do to help minimize it, if not prevent it.
Similarly, States should consider introducing digital citizenship and literacy courses in both formal and informal settings to help protect their children online and on social media.
Another way to promote COP & Safety is to build a community of practice around the issue and reproach member States who are consistently found to be in violation of the AU Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection (2014), the Africa Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) and the measures stipulated in the various Agenda. Although the Committee cannot impose sanctions, we still believe it can pass resolutions to condemn a State that opens its children up to online abuse.
In order to prevent child online abuse and victimization, African States must work together to build a support system that works to create a safe and secure online environment for their children. In this regard, J Initiative stands ready to offer its expertise and support to the African Union and member countries in whatever form possible, to enable the continent deal firmly with Child Online abuse.
World Vision International is a Christian humanitarian organization which promotes and protects child well-being.
J Initiative (JI) is a Child Online Safety advocacy organization based in Accra Ghana. Based on a policy gap analysis and the advocacy carried out by JI, the Ministry of Communication in Ghana is promoting Child Online Protection under a bigger Cyber Security framework by supporting education and awareness programs throughout Ghana. JI also coordinates Safer Internet Day celebrations with funding and collaboration from the Government of Ghana, industry and other non-governmental organizations annually. These actions have influenced Ghana’s status on the ITU’s COP benchmarking.