The Africa Child Online Protection Forum being organized by the Ministry of Communications (MOC) and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), is underway at the Kofi Annan International Peace Training Centre in Accra.

The three-day event would underline Government’s commitment to work with international partners to strengthen Child Online Protection (COP) measures.

Aside Ghana, the forum would host delegates from countries such as Gambia, Sierra Leone, Cote D’Ivoire, Zambia, Liberia, Mali, Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria and Senegal.

In a speech read for her, Mrs Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, the Minister for Communications, noted that among the many benefits derived from the internet, was the opportunity for education and cognitive development.

She said though children were increasingly becoming technologically knowledgeable, many were still oblivious of the dangers lurking in cyberspace and in their quest to explore and learn new things, may unwittingly fall victim.

The Communications Minister highlighted that some of the dangers in using the internet as exposure to sexually explicit content, encounter with strangers online who formed unhealthy connections with them.

She added that, some of these online “predators” sometimes arranged a meet-up and exploited users, especially, children.

Mrs Owusu-Ekuful quoted a research by Global Kids Online Toolkit with support from UNICEF which revealed that, four out of 10 children had seen sexual images at least once in the past and out of 10 adolescents accepted all friend requests from people they had never met.

She said a quarter of the over 2000 youth surveyed for the research indicated that they had received sexual images on their phones.
Two in 10 children had actually met someone face to face whom they first got to know on the internet, with 25 per cent of them being upset by this meeting.

Unfortunately, she said, most of the children who had these encounters were unable to share their experiences, with about half of all the surveyed children expressing difficulty in talking about exposure to sexual images or online “predators” with their guardians.

Mrs Owusu-Ekuful said the protection of children online must be fundamental in all cyber security efforts and given even greater priority than their physical security or at best must receive the same attention.
“Unguided, our children, our future, stand a great risk of falling prey to the ills that plague the digital economy as the use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) can be a double-edged sword,” she added.

She said the Ministry had signed a collaborative agreement with UNICEF through which a number of initiatives, including the revision of the National Child Online Protection Framework and awareness creation programmes were being implemented.

The Communications Minister said the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) had conducted a nationwide awareness campaign in all the 16 regions of the country.

Adding that, this year’s program was carried out in 40 schools across the country with about 20,000 students benefiting from it. “We intend to continue this engagement throughout the country in 2020 and beyond, and grow a corps of peer educators in educational institutions,” she added.

Dr Albert Antwi-Boasiako, the National Cyber Security Advisor, noted that the ITU had consistently provided guidance and best practice models to support nations to develop their ICT ecosystem, including cyber security.

He said Ghana’s first COP framework which was developed in 2015 was entirely based on the ITU COP model. Subsequently, the ITU’s model provided the foundation for the development of other best practice models and systems.

Dr Antwi-Boasiako added that, the ITU had supported countries across the continent to implement relevant mechanisms to strengthen the protection of children against malicious contents, contacts and the conducts of children as users of the internet.

As such, he said it was important to continue holding dialogue towards improving a collective response to child online safety issues.

Mr Antwi-Boasiako entreated delegates that as part of the several discussions that would go on at the forum, attention should also be given to relevant monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, including metrics to support in-country assessment of COP interventions.

“We have critical roles to play in our respective countries to create the right cyber culture and to expose our children to safe online hygienic practices.

“Education therefore is critical to achieving this and interaction with the children to know their needs will go a long way to ensuring that their needs are understood and factored into policies that are developed for their benefit,” he added.

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