Parents: Children need to be protected while online

Children play games on a tablet. Parents should regulate the time children spend on the phone by replacing phone play time with outdoor games. Photo by Gillian Nantume

What you need to know:

  • The internet is not only a treasure trove for endless nurses rhymes and child-friendly applications for mobile devices such as Toca Boca.

How do I keep my children safe online? This is a question that many parents think about intensely. With tech companies and other platforms that host user-generated content able to harm children online in as many ways possible, a duty of care to keep them safe takes on prime importance.

The internet is not only a treasure trove for endless nurses rhymes and child-friendly applications for mobile devices such as Toca Boca.

There is also disturbing content disguised as child-friendly that usually takes up a disproportionate amount of children’s screen time.

For today’s parents, shielding their children from harmful content can be akin to a full-time job. Ms Miriam Nalwoga, a mother of three, told this publication that online platforms “started the decay of our moral fibre as a society.”

There is evidence to suggest that most of the online platforms that keep parents like Ms Nalwoga worried have content that includes child sexual abuse material, revenge pornography, selling illegal drugs, and terrorism.

The most pressing concern for parents this side of the year appears to be content that is predisposing children to acts of homosexuality. In the past fortnight, a video of an alleged gay couple in a Wakiso-based private school became the subject of discussion on the floor of Parliament.

This week Mr Thomas Tayebwa, the deputy Speaker, told the House that “it seems our schools have been penetrated completely [by homosexuality.”

Ms Jackie Muwanguzi, a primary school teacher in Wakiso District, told this publication that since “children are known to be very inquisitive[, they]  will always try to acquaint themselves with anything that is made to trend, including homosexuality.”

Her counsel? “ I urge parents to watch what their children do with their phones and regulate it as much as possible. In fact, if possible do not allow your child to have a phone until a time when they are old enough to have phones.”

While the amended Computer Misuse Act has made news for all the wrong reasons, at least according to free speech activists, observers have hailed it for attempting to protect children from harm online.

Mr Gad Arthur Kisaalu, a human rights lawyer, says Section 23 of the legislation noticeably places duties of care on those that share “information about children.” It says that such information should be “in the best interest of the child.” It prescribes criminal liability punishable by a seven-year jail sentence for those that run foul of the law.

While this is refreshing for a piece of legislation that has been seen as a wide-reaching legal tool of state power and censorship, parents are alive to the fact that online platforms can circumvent it.

While the said platforms are instrumental in bridging the information gap, many see them as a time bomb that will imperil children.

Concerned parent

Mr Hannington Bugingo, a parent who is active on social media, notes that the impact of inappropriate content is not immediate. If not regulated, he adds, it builds slowly with dire consequences.

“I was very happy when my 16-year-old son deactivated all his social media pages once he learnt from his school that some of the things or people he follows on social media may come back to haunt him later in his professional career and family,” said, concluding: “I think they should not have social media accounts or be exposed to the same.”


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