The Minister of Communications, Mrs. Ursula Owusu-Ekuful (MP), has indicated that, promoting access to the internet is one of the core missions of the Ministry and it intends to continuously strengthen that mandate through the review of old laws and enactment of new ones.

She said, as the Ministry continue to do that, they will ensure ICTs are used in a responsible and safe manner, especially among the youth.

Saying, “Today, we go a step further in our quest to ensure their safety, by ensuring that the same efforts that are put in place to protect children physically are replicated to protect them online.”

The Minister said, since children are the most active users of the internet, they are exposed to cyberbullying, child pornography, cyber stalking, phishing attacks and sexting among others, which affects their human rights online.

She was addressing stakeholders on day two of the climax week celebration of the National Cyber Security Awareness Month 2019, dubbed: “Demonstrating Ghana’s Cyber Security Readiness,” at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC), Teshie – Accra.

“Although the increasing access to the internet has presented unparalleled opportunities for children and young people to communicate, connect, learn and access information from various parts of the world, they do come with new challenges,” She emphasized.

Speaking on the National Child Online Protection (COP) Framework Implementation Plan and Initiatives, she noted that, International Conventions and national laws have already established that children have a legal right to be protected from all forms of exploitation. Saying, “However, this needs to include exploitation in cyberspace.”

To this end, she disclosed that, the Ministry is in the process of completing the draft Cybersecurity Bill, which would further address some of these gaps in legislation with regards to the protection of children online.

“The electronic transactions Act was enacted before Child Online Protection (COP) became a national and global concern, and that is why we are currently reviewing existing laws to incorporate COP provisions in them. . We need to protect children and young people from online abuse, and have initiated processes to do so.

The draft Cybersecurity Bill will criminalize child grooming for purposes of sexual abuse, aiding and abetting of child grooming for purposes of sexual abuse, cyberstalking of a child and sexual extortion among other child online related offences.

Most importantly, the law will criminalize the possession and or non-consensual sharing of explicit images as well as threats to distribute explicit images and visual recordings, which have become a very common phenomenon among the youth. Very stiff sanctions will be imposed for these anti social actions which harm our young people.” The Minister reiterated.

The Ministry of Communications, through the National Cyber Security Centre, has also adopted the WePROTECT Global Alliance Model National Response and expanded its scope to cover all forms of Child Online Exploitation and Abuse (COEA), which serves as the foundation for the revised Ghana National Child Online Protection Framework, subject to stakeholder discussions.

Mrs. Owudu-Ekuful, intimated that, the WePROTECT Framework has been adapted to suit the Ghanaian context in dealing with child online abuses and exploitation but it also addresses the global nature of online abuse against children and young people.

She further disclosed the Ministry’s intention to build upon the aforementioned formative steps. “In view of the feedback received from the regional sensitization events across the country, I have directed the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) to incorporate Child Online Protection awareness programmes into their work plan for 2020,” Mrs. Owusu-Akuful said.

The Communications Minister, continued that, “By this directive, the NCSC is expected to roll out awareness and sensitization programmes throughout the year across all the regions to ensure that we scale up our efforts to protect the digital experiences of the Ghanaian child.

Meanwhile, she said, government, had increased awareness among children across all the regions and by the end of October, 40 schools would have been reached, on the need for child online development and welfare within the shortest possible time.

We look forward to work with UNICEF, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection and other relevant stakeholders in implementing this initiative.”

“In reference to our joint partnership in the area of Child Online Protection (COP) with UNICEF Ghana, the Ministry of Communications, through the National Cyber Security Centre is currently discussing an agreement with Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) concerning reporting and sharing of child online abuse information.

The Reporting Portal to be operationalized under the agreement, will enable reporting of images and videos of illegal content when they see it on the internet,” She added.

In her keynote address, the Second Lady of the Republic of Ghana, H.E Hajia Samira Bawumia, underscored the need for parents to get used to the internet in order to be able to guide their children on its usage as their children mostly knows more than they do.

Sitting UNICEF’s research done in 2016, she said four out of 10 children had seen sexual images and half of the 2000 children used in the survey expressed online abuse by adults.

She, therefore, called on government, educators, civil society organisations, international development partners to come up with policies and legislations to protect young internet users.

The National Cyber Security Advisor, Dr. Albert Antwi-Boasiako, said, the Centre is aware of its responsibility to work closely with the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection; the Ministry of Education; International partners like UNICEF; Civil Society Organizations and other relevant organizations, to scale up the protection of children on the internet.

He also stressed that, child protection issues needed a multi-sectorial approach where children themselves should not be left out of the solution.

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