Increasing online landscape makes children vulnerable
By Amir Murtaza
Pakistan have shown tremendous growth rate of internet users in past five years and it is widely estimated that at present more than 30 million people are using internet in the country. In urban areas of the country, internet has become an integral part of daily life and the facility is widely available at homes, offices and educational institutions. Additionally, a large number of mobile phone subscribers also use internet services in all parts of the country.
The rising internet facility has greatly benefited the common people, especially professionals and students, in accessing and exchanging information and making contacts. However, rapidly increasing online landscape also presents several threats and dangers, especially to our children.
Sehar Tariq, a financial consultant and mother of a fourteen year old boy, informed that, “I was really happy when even in class two, my son had started using the computer. I bought him a desktop computer when he was in class sixth. It was really nice to see him accessing information and making school projects on the computer. However, once while using his computer I checked the browsing history and really shocked that some of the visited websites were absolutely inappropriate for him.”
Children in general have an early exposure to computers across the world. In a country like Pakistan, outdoor sports for children have died down mainly due to volatile law and order situation. Parents usually feel at ease with their children spending more time at home. In order to entice children to remain at one place, urban parents often make efforts to provide their children with a computer. And soon children have access to the internet, from computer or mobile phone, where they are exposed to inappropriate information, images and people. The vulnerability of children, while using internet, is quite obvious and therefore parents are supposed to remain vigilant against the cyber activity of their children.
Anas Ahsan has been teaching in a local school for last ten years. He informed that, “Most of my students have internet access at their homes. The internet facility has really sharpened their research and language skills. However, I still feel that parents should strictly monitor the online activities of their children because at such young age these children don’t understand the online risks.” The experienced school teacher observed that chat rooms have become a dangerous place for children. He added that a number of the adult people in chat rooms tried to engage children in sexual conversation and also encouraged them to visit porn websites.
Usually children have no intention to visit porn website; however, chances of running obscene material are quite high while someone is downloading videos or music because of a number of links and sub-links on video and music websites.
Arfa Zainab, a Karachi based psychologist, observed that lack of sharing and friendly relations between parents and children is a major issue. “In many traditional families parents usually don’t allow their children to talk to them freely. Due to communication gap, children feel reluctant to share any inappropriate content or contact, they ever come across on internet.” The Karachi based psychologist suggested that parents should encourage and talk to their growing children. Families should keep the computer in an open area rather than in children’s bedroom. Additionally, parents should tell their children about the harms of internet and routinely check the browsing history.
Jack Taggerty in his article, Top 10 reasons why you should monitor your children's internet use stated that, “Examine the history of the websites that your child is visiting. By taking this action it is possible to stay in the loop as far as knowing what type of websites your child is visiting and how often. Gaining access to this type of information makes it possible for you to discover any problems at their earliest inception and to avoid unpleasant surprises.”
It is a fact that despite the larger benefits of internet the facility poses inappropriate content and harmful contact risks to the children. In Pakistan, online child protection is relatively a new issue and so far limited work has been done on the subject. There is an urgent need to conduct researches, especially online researches, to explore the harms experienced by children as a result of their internet activity. Additionally, school management and teachers should regularly organize awareness raising sessions on online protection of children.
(About the Author: Amir Murtaza is a Karachi, Pakistan, based Development Consultant and Researcher. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)