Fighting online child trafficking

Communications technology, such as the internet and mobile phones, certainly make life easier. Unfortunately, the same technology has also made it easier for criminals to prey on the young for purposes such as child trafficking.

Looking at international trends, it is unfortunately inevitable that we will see a similar increase in South Africa in the use of the internet by organised criminals to recruit victims. It is vital that anyone responsible for protecting children tackles the role of the internet as an enabler of criminal activity in order to successfully address the problem of child trafficking.

A 2006 Serbian study into the role of the internet in child trafficking, Human (child) trafficking – a look through the internet window, set out to discover just how vulnerable children are in internet chat rooms. They set up a dummy profile of a 15-year-old girl, using very straightforward information. Within 50 hours, over the course of a few weeks, and without initiating any conversations themselves the profile was contacted 457 times. Men, up to 50 years old, initiated 86% of the contact and 27% of the conversations were clearly sexual harassment.

In South Africa, we are unfortunately no doubt going to see the same trend as internet use increases and our already high mobile phone adoption rate rises even further. And while child abuse and trafficking affects all levels of society we also have particularly vulnerable communities in some of our poorer neighbouring countries that could make easy targets for child traffickers.

The solution?

Parents and teachers need to actively narrow the digital generation gap by learning about and using the technology their children have grown up with and are immersed in. If your child is on MXit or Facebook, you should be too. This will not only give parents better visibility of their child’s online activities, but also give them a better understanding of the technology and how their children are using it, allowing them to react more appropriately when they need to give their children guidance.

Parents and teachers should also realise that the internet that is accessed by mobile phone is exactly the same as the internet accessed via computer.

Another important guideline is to ensure their children are only accessing age appropriate services. So while services such as Facebook and MXit might say they are suitable for ages 13 and older, related chat rooms or dating services might be only appropriate for adults.

Lawmakers and law enforcers need to look to countries with more advanced internet environments and learn from best practices there. A key component of these initiatives is a combined effort by major stakeholders to combat crime.

The European Union’s guidelines, entitled safer social networking principles for the EU, requires social networking services to put the following principles in place to protect young users:
  1. Raise awareness of safety educational messages and acceptable use of policies to users, parents, teachers and carers.
  2. Work towards ensuring that services are age-appropriate for the intended audience.
  3. Empower users through tools and technology with targeted, easily-accessible and up-to-date information.
  4. Provide easy-to-use mechanisms to report conduct or content that violates the terms of service.
  5. Respond to notifications of illegal content or conduct.
  6. Enable and encourage users to employ a safe approach to personal information and privacy.
  7. Assess the means for reviewing illegal or prohibited content/conduct.
  8. Work collaboratively with law enforcement bodies to share their knowledge of social networking and to support investigations in line with applicable laws.
The reality is that with all the benefits we get from advancements in communications technology, there come some very serious threats.

Awareness needs to be raised amongst parents, teachers and law enforcement alike, and stakeholders need to be organised alongside law makers and enforcers to protect the vulnerable, and make sure the benefits of technology outweigh the threats.

30 May - 5 June is National Child Protection Week in South Africa

How do you keep your children safe online?
We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Show Comments ()
Voting Booth
What do you think about the SA government investigating Chinese online fashion retailer Shein over its business practices?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
It’s a waste of resources that should go to local trade
29% - 1182 votes
I think Shein is being unfairly targeted
10% - 412 votes
Dig up the dirt! We must look out for SA retailers
43% - 1722 votes
I don’t mind, as long as the customer doesn’t suffer
18% - 705 votes
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.