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'Empower children through tech security'

Children must not be scared away from technology, but rather empowered with ways in which they can use online technology responsibly and to protect themselves from possible harm.

This is according to minister of women, children and people with disabilities, Lulu Xingwana, who says online technology has massively transformed the world in a way unimaginable only a few years ago. However, she warns that the advent of the Internet and mobile technology has increased children's vulnerability.

She adds that the rate of Internet usage by young people in SA is increasing at a rapid pace, and even though extensive efforts have been put into protecting children online in other countries, not much work has been done in SA and the Southern Africa region.

Google effort

For this reason, the minister welcomes Google's Online Child Safety campaign, describing it as a noble initiative that would “go down as one of the most important developments in our collective efforts to protect our children”.

Google SA has launched a South African version of Google's Family Safety Centre Web site, supported by various government and civil society groups. Google's safety campaign aims to equip parents with the tools needed to prevent children from accessing or being exposed to inappropriate content online.

Google SA country manager, Luke Mckend, says very little work has been done in this vein in SA, despite the fact that South Africans are increasingly using the Internet, especially on their mobile phones.

Criminal element

The department last week held Child Protection Week.

Xingwana says Google's initiative is a welcome intervention, especially because it involves parents by empowering them with tools that allow them to prevent their children from accessing or being exposed to harmful online content. It will enable parents to carefully select the content that their children can view online.

“I would like to take this opportunity to commend Google for rolling out this campaign, which seeks to create a safe online environment for children who are exposed to the world of Internet and cyberspace in general.

“We have read about many incidents where young people have fallen victims after arranging meetings with strangers they have met through social networks. In addition, we have many more young people who use the Internet to view pornographic and other harmful material.”

The minister also says that, while technology is contributing positively to the world's communication and development needs, it can also be a useful tool for criminal elements in society, who thrive on child pornography, rapes, kidnapping, murders and child trafficking.

She is pleased that Google SA is responding positively to government's call for the business sector to play its part in ensuring the safety and protection of children.

The minister urged parents to accept that social networks play a significant part in the day-to-day lives of many young people. It is important to have regular, open and honest discussions with children about their experiences on the Internet and the things they do online. Parents have a responsibility to monitor their children's online activities.

This online child safety campaign is the first of its kind involving government, the private sector and civil society, according to the department.

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