Two technologies have transformed the lives of billions of people over the past two decades — mobile communications and the Internet. Initially, these technologies developed in parallel, but now they are on a fully converged path. This convergence is representative of a new era, with the majority of the world’s population not only making their first phone call using a mobile handset, but accessing the Internet over mobile technology too. Children around the globe are increasingly passionate users of mobile technology. To young people, online life is real life. They see no difference between the people they speak to over social media and their friends at school. And the experiences they have over the Internet are as real to them as the activities they take part in in real life. When it comes to safety, children need adults to be aware and involved in what’s going on – both online and offline. ‘Companies have many strategic and direct ways to influence children’s lives positively, beyond charity work or fighting child labour. – Rachel Samrén (News note, December, 2014.)
The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Child Online Protection (COP) Initiative started in November 2008 within the Global Cybersecurity Agenda framework aimed at bringing together partners from all sectors of the global community to ensure a safe and secure online experience for children everywhere. COP aims to tackle Cybersecurity holistically, addressing legal, technical, organizational and procedural issues as well as capacity building and international cooperation. It rhymes with the belief that protecting children online is a global challenge, which requires a global approach. While many efforts to improve child online protection may be under way, their reach has been more national than global. ITU has established the Child Online Protection initiative to create an international collaborative network and promote online safety of children around the world.
While many global campaigns, international protocols and conventions have existed to promote the rights of children and young people, usually calling member countries, operators and parents for empowerment and more investment into education, awareness and enforcement programmes, these efforts are yet to yield the desired results. Due to the slack in the system regarding value for money or quality service, J.Initiative (JI) wish to remind Ghanaian Telecom Companies whose group offices signed agreements they ITU, GSMA among others to start delivering on the terms of the alliance, anything short of that can be detrimental to the future of Ghana.
The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies – ICTs thought it necessary to initiate the process to put in place measures to be adhered to by all consumers which led to agreements signed on by the global group of the local telcos.
COP takes a holistic approach to promoting child online safety and developing strategies that span the five key areas mentioned in the background above.
In October 2013, Vodafone Group and 22 other companies signed an agreement with The ICT Coalition for the Safer Use of Connected Devices and Online Services by Children and Young People. Members of the ICT Coalition pledged to encourage the safe and responsible use of online services and Internet devices among children and young people and to empower parents and carers to engage with and help protect their children in the digital world. This was done with six key principles related to online content; parental controls, dealing with abuse and misuse, child abuse and illegal contact, privacy and control, and education and awareness.
Vodafone Group Plc signed up onto the GSMA Privacy Guidelines for Mobile Application Development. The guidelines include specific requirements concerning the collection, access and use of personal information where applications are directed at or used by children and adolescents.
Vodafone Group is also a member of the Mobile Alliance Against Child Sexual Abuse Content, supporting the setting up of hotlines for reporting child abuse incidences.. These agreements are supposed to be seen working in all markets in which Vodafone operates.
Elsewhere, Vodafone Group launched Be Strong Online: (A module for schools and emoji campaign) and the latest Digital Parenting Magazine. #BeStrong ‘support emojis’ so that young people can convey compassion, sympathy and support when their friends are being bullied online. Why are Ghanaian children not enjoying any of these in Ghana?
In December 2011, Millicom International Cellular (Tigo) formally agreed to a three-year alliance with UNICEF to improve respect for children’s rights in the telecommunication sector. It was said that the partnership will strive for positive change within the industry through pilot implementation of the Children’s Rights and Business Principles, and the UNICEF and ITU’s Guidelines for Industry on Child Online Protection. Millicom by the agreement is to create standards for good practice in the telecommunication sector that protect children online and respect their right to privacy, freedom of thought, opinion, culture and safety. This is also to take place in all markets that Tigo operates including Ghana Children and young people face an increasing number of risks online, from targeted marketing using their personal information to bullying and harassment, identity theft and online abuse.
Reviewing the agreements afore mentioned, the companies are to carry out these plans in ALL their markets and there is evidence that it is happening in other markets. Is Ghana not one of the markets? Some adverts from our Telcos are rather actions which aggravates the risks children face online.
So far there has been efforts to hold stakeholders session on Child Online Protection (COP) but these efforts lack coordination. Almost all initiatives by some agencies seems to lack the focus it deserves to help achieve the desired goal in the interest of the children of Ghana.
With the National Cybersecurity Policy and Strategy already underway, Revised Broadcasting Bill awaiting validation which we hope has taken into consideration the Guidelines for Broadcasting and other legal provisions meant to ensure that children are protected online, the government has put in place programmes to transform the country into an information rich and knowledge based society as captured in Ghana’s ICT For Accelerated Development Policy ( ICT4AD). The Domestic Violence Act , 2007 ( Act 732),The Human Trafficking Act of 2005( At 694),The Juvenile Justice Act of 2003 ( Act 653) and The Commission on Human Rights & Administrative Justice of 1993 ( Act 456) National Communication Act (1996),National Information Technology Act (2008) National Communication Authority Act (2008),Electronic Communication Act (2008),Electronic Transactions Act (2008),Data Protection Act (2012) and other laws signalled Ghana’s determination to reduce online crime related to children while making ICT accessible in the Country but this cannot be said to be holistic without due consideration of the fragile future generation we have (children and young people).
There have also been talks about Child Online Protection (COP) by these key Telecom companies with no significant action on the ground to address the needs of children and young people in Ghana. The agreements have been beautifully signed and publications well documented about commitment but no concrete action has come from Telcos in the direction of COP. Engage them individually and you will get a sense of willingness but a lack of action to make this real for the children and young people of Ghana. There is a lot to be done for Ghanaian young people to enjoy and develop their full potentials with regards to their digital rights and safety within the cyberspace.
JI’s Digital Literacy (DL) Interventions
As an organization interested in the child well-being, JI has put in place programmes and interventions to promote the safety of children and young people in Ghana. Our Children and ICT tools campaign (C&ICT) and our Digital Literacy (DL) have been relevant to schools and lately churches.
Our stakeholder engagement and awareness raising programme affords stakeholders to get to understand the specific issues Ghana needs to be taking into consideration in the area of COP. Some of these actions have informed policy in the right direction in the interest of consumers. For which we can say we have been successful with.
JI has also formed an alliance with World Vision International (WVI) which made available to the National IT Agency WVI’s Keeping Children Safe Online (KCSO) toolkit which is aimed at educating children and young people as well as their parents about how they can conduct themselves when they are in the virtual environment.
Our advocacy work in Ghana on creating awareness on the need for children and young people to be have a conducive environment is also achieving the need result but a lot more needs to be done in some key sectors like the Telcos. We can now say that a number of stakeholders are making efforts to promote and ensure that children and young people are catered for in order to make their online experience worthwhile even though these efforts lack the needed coordination and sometimes direction.
In spite of these interventions, children and young people still face risks online sometimes without knowing. The Minister for communication once said ‘Children must be protected whilst they are on the Internet even much more than we protect them in their ordinary day-to-day lives because on the Internet nobody is actually looking at that imaginary space.’
JI is of the view that if all service providers can be proactive in notifying their subscribers about child online safety issues and how to manage if not prevent them just like in other jurisdiction; once you are being provided with data and airtime, the organization reserves the responsibility to give you opportunity to be educated on COP issues.