January 17, 2023

Africa Watch Trust reflect SHOCKING insights about online child sexual exploitation and abuse in Zimbabwe

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A report published by Africa Watch Trust (2022) Ending Child Sexual Abuse Material Online: The Internet and Children details comprehensive evidence of the risks children face online, how they develop and what we can do to prevent them.

Most children who experienced some form of online child sexual exploitation and abuse (e.g., grooming, or blackmail to send sexual images).

Provides unique and comprehensive data on sexual exploitation and abuse of children facilitated/enabled by digital technology.

Key findings from Child Sexual Abuse Material in Zimbabwe: The internet and children research in Zimbabwe found:

Sexting

  • 80 out of 100 parents from Gweru, Harare, Masvingo, Bulawayo and Chinhoyi shared that children are involved in sexting to the extent that some children consider it normal. Sexting happens between children and their social media friends as well as with strangers met on the various social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram.
  • Further, 30 out of 250 children stated that, they have watched pornography online with an adult, which shows that children are victims of online sexual abuse.

Children

  • 250 Children interviewed during this study stated that they spend at least 5 hours on social media and other online chat on a daily basis. They prefer to use these fora because the communication is instantaneous, rapid, cheap and convenient. The children were aware of the potential risk of OCSA and all agreed it was not safe to chat with strangers online.
  • Over half the respondents also shared that they had chatted and befriended with strangers on social media. Half of the children had experienced what they considered ‘online dating’ though none had physically met their online date.
  • All 250 children interviewed reported having received sexual comments to posts on social media, and all had received requests to share more intimate photos and organise face-to-face meetings.
  • 176 out of 250 children noted that, they are hesitating to confide in their parents because they doubt their level of technical sophistication or fear that they will lose access to their personal devices.

Parents

  • The problem is aggravated by the fact that parents often struggle with a lack of technological sophistication, making it difficult for them to make use of existing safety and privacy tools to protect their children and supervise their online activities. Even where parents have adequate technological knowledge, portable devices present a particular challenge to successful supervision and protection. 80 out 100 parents said children access the Internet from their bedrooms and 60 per cent of children use smartphone devices.
  • 40 out of 100 parents noted that online perpetrators are convincing children to share a compromising image and then threaten to send it to them or to upload it to a public website in order to extort more graphic content or in-person meetings.

In Zimbabwe, there are almost no gender differences in children’s experience of OCSEA; boys and girls are both subjected to these crimes.

The research also found that the Zimbabwe government already has strong programmes in place to address OCSEA and support survivors. The Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (POTRAZ) established the Child Online Protection Guidelines for Children in 2015 with the aim to provide information and assistance in implementing proactive measures to reduce and respond to ‘computer security incidents’ and a few roadshow campaigns in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe has already taken considerable steps towards ending violence against children online. With the launch of the Zimbabwe Child Online Protection Task Force (ZICOP) under the auspices of the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services, Zimbabwe has made child online safety a national priority.

Save the Children Zimbabwe has also partnered with members of the police force from the Victim Friendly Unit (VFU) in an effort to make them understand online sexual abuse and exploitation on children and their role as a key department in the ZRP which deals with crimes against children.

As a recommendations of the research, provides practical solutions for national partners, industry, and the Government of Zimbabwe, including:

  • Strengthen the technical capacity of key stakeholders, including government authorities, and child rights CSOs, to better prevent and respond to OCSA
  • Partner with the private sector to develop and implement industry-led commitments to combating OCSA in Zimbabwe.
  • Prepare and implement training programmes and information campaigns to increase awareness of online/digital safety aimed at children, young people, parents, teachers and the public at large.
  • Creation of Internet Hotline in Zimbabwe with dedicated analysts
  • Accessing state-of-the-art technological resources In order to keep pace with technological innovation and effectively combat online child sexual abuse.

Executive Director of Africa Watch Trust, Clive Tatenda Makumbe said: “Technologies usage in Zimbabwe, particularly the emergence of COVID-19 pandemic that forced parents and schools to purchase ICT equipment for children which poses a problem in modern day society. Unfortunately, this digitally advanced environment represents a double-edged sword. Increased mobile phone penetration and internet access have given rise to a set of conditions that have made children more vulnerable to Online Child Sexual Abuse (OCSA).”

“Based on this study and its global expertise in uncovering (live) OCSA, we call for a radical approach combating OCSA.

The organisation is prepared to work with the Government of Zimbabwe, local non-governmental organisations, civil society organisations, the private sector, communities, and children themselves before the problem affects more children in Zimbabwe.”

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