Parents and caregivers have been urged to take more accountability and responsibility for ensuring the online safety of their children.
The police’s serial and electronic crime investigation unit has raised concerns about the ease with which children can be sexually exploited through internet and social media platforms.
The emergence of artificial intelligence has further contributed to the rise in the exploitation of children.
These were some of the concerns raised at a panel discussion by the Film and Publication Board on mitigating and raising awareness on the sexual exploitation of children in South Africa through online platforms.
The internet is undoubtedly a remarkable invention of the century; however, it also has its downsides. The increasing use of social media platforms has attracted younger users, exposing them to harmful content and making them vulnerable to child predators.
This has seen a spike in the distribution of child pornography. The Film and Publication Board’s Rianette Leibowitz, says the advent of artificial intelligence is a growing problem.
“Deep faking is one of those issues that has become a growing phenomenon involving the use of artificial intelligence. It manipulates someone’s likeness onto existing videos and images and it’s extremely difficult to distinguish the real from the fake.”
Lebowitz says this has also made the sharing of harmful non-consensual images effortless.
“Our children are more and more vulnerable; children and young people are sharing so much content on their social media platforms that it is easy to go and grab something they’ve shared and create a deep fake.”
A 2022 study on the prevention of Online Sexual Abuse of Children by UNICEF in South Africa found that 68 percent of children had accessed inappropriate material online. Among the 1 639 children aged between 9 and 17 surveyed went online once a day or more. 33 percent of them met someone in person whom they had first met online while 8% had shared naked pictures or videos of themselves online.
UNICEF’s Makiba Yamano says, “Policy legislation and governance, criminal justice, victim support and empowerment, society and culture industry, and research and data. When it comes to policy and governance there needs to be a national leadership and oversight structure.”
The police’s serial and electronic crime investigation unit is calling on parents to monitor their children’s internet activity.
The unit’s commander, Colonel Celeste Van Klashorst says this has become a drawback and parents need to account.
“We are not taking responsibility for the online safety of our children. Monitor their accounts, and let’s get the parental controls in place. Let’s heighten the awareness, where we can go let’s spread awareness, let’s tell the world about what is happening to our children out there. The circle of abuse is not going to be broken if these things are not reported and perpetrators not brought to books.”
The panel has also called for the support of victims who often live in shame after following the exploitation.