Introduction

While CWIN conducted research on child sexual abuse in the Kathmandu valley together with Save the Children Norway (2003) and in four other districts together with UNICEF (2005), many children reported having been exposed to pornographic material via Internet.

Now that internet is making its entrée into daily life of (urban) Nepal, it is the right moment to stand still and consider the consequences of growing internet access for children and young people. Soon the possibilities for Nepali children to reach into cyberspace will increase considerably, also through the use of 2.5, 2.75 and 3d generation mobile phones.

While most industrialized western countries woke up to recognize the possible dangers for children only after severe damage was done, we might be able to protect Nepali children better, if we act right now and learn from the experience of these countries.

Internet in itself is a neutral medium that provides access to enormous amounts of information and many new forms of communication which empower individuals to share limitless amounts of material to a wide audience almost instantly and provide means for people to create places within which they socially interact.

Besides the countless benefits we are experiencing, Internet is also a place where children can be seriously harmed. This is due to several factors. Firstly, Internet is to a large extent, used also by people who exploit children, like paedophiles, pornographers and child traffickers. Because abusers can remain relatively anonymous, and because children make unsupervised use of the net, this new technology is making it easier for the exploiters to reach children and make contact with them, with a smaller chance of being caught by law enforcement agencies. Secondly, there is little to no ethical control on the internet content, which makes it possible for children and young people to encounter all kind of images/ messages that are inappropriate or thoroughly harmful for them. Thirdly, the social interactions in virtual settings often differ from those in the real world, with moral standards lowered in many cases, and can have a profound impact on forming children's and young people's attitudes and personalities.

Children and young people adapt to the staggering speed of change in the world of Internet much faster than adults, which makes it difficult for parents and teachers to monitor their children's behaviour online. More so, due to the newness of Internet in Nepal, the majority of Nepali adults know nothing about the possible risks for children online. While parents imagine their children safely at home, in reality they are thrown into the virtual world completely unprotected. The laws and ethical standards that govern our daily behaviour often do not apply to the virtual world and, as a consequence, every basic human (child) right can be violated and every kind of perversity can be expressed freely in the name of freedom of speech. It calls for great individual, corporate and communal responsibility to keep our children safe and to prevent junk from 'educating' our children. Otherwise Internet may cause an unimaginable slide of norms and values in our future real world.

What are the risks?

1. Images of child sexual abuse (child pornography)

The Internet with all of its benefits has also significantly increased the availability of images of sexual abuse of children, commonly known as child pornography. The children in these images are being degraded, abused and humiliated in the most despicable ways. Every time that image is shared or viewed on Internet, the cycle of abuse continues and the child is re-victimized all over again. The huge consumption of these materials worldwide today fuels the production, and results in increased sexual abuse of children. Also, it stimulates people whose interest in child pornography might have been only latent, to actually physically abuse children.

2. Exposure to inappropriate materials

As children explore the Internet, they can come across images and information not appropriate for them, like (extreme) pornography, (extreme) violence, racism etc. They find these materials by accident or seek them out deliberately. These materials are easily available and just one mouse click away from children surfing the net. Involuntary exposure to pornography also occurs through spam, pop-ups, deception and luring practices of porno sites, or typing of innocent key words on search engines. Also Nepali children who have never been online are known to have been exposed to pornographic materials downloaded onto memory sticks and distributed through mobile phones.

3. Exposure to inappropriate and potentially dangerous contact

Adults, who want to engage children in sexual acts or talk to them for sexual gratification, will try to befriend vulnerable children and teens by pretending to be children themselves or posing as a trusted adult. They will use manipulation to build a trust relationship or play on teens desire for romance and adventure, slowly getting more intimate, including confronting a child with use of sexually explicit images and use of webcams. They often use blackmail and guilt as methods to meet with the child in person.

4. Cyber bullying

New technologies like Internet and mobile phones are increasingly used by bullies (most of them children and young people themselves) to torment their victims by harassing, and intimidating them, ranging from name-calling and physical threats to spreading rumours or sending out inappropriate images of their victims. The victims of cyber bullying can feel embarrassed, upset, depressed or afraid, and as a result, their psychological wellbeing and self esteem can be seriously damaged.

5. Invasion of privacy and online fraud

Children may (innocently) share personal information (like phone number, address etc) or photographs of themselves or their family on social networking sites, when chatting or playing games or by filling registration forms. Giving out this information can put children and their family members at risk from child predators or Internet thieves.

6. File sharing abuse

Downloading and sharing files (e.g. music or videos) online can be risky. Especially the use of file sharing networks (peer to peer) might expose children to pornography and other inappropriate content or put your computer at risk of spy ware and viruses, because they are the least regulated part of the Internet. Also, downloading and uploading of copyrighted material is illegal. There are also sites that permit downloading and sharing of files legally and risks are significantly lower.

  • Findings from recent focus group discussions with Nepali children
  • Sharing of personal details (name, age, sex, address, phone number etc) without hesitation with strangers is common.
  • Pornographic images are viewed by many who use Internet (both intentionally and accidentally).
  • Younger boys with no Internet experience have viewed pornographic images in mobile phones and pen drives of friends/brothers.
  • Sexual advances and use of foul language are encountered by many.
  • Generally there is no conception of possible risks - and no hesitation - about meeting online friends in real life.
  • Parents are usually not informed about their children's online friends and experiences. 
  • Grounds that call for immediate action in Nepal 
  • There is no information in Nepal about child safety issues in Cyberspace. No research has been conducted on this issue in Nepal thus far.
  • There is no public or governmental awareness about the risks for children in cyberspace thus far.
  • There are no measures to protect children in cyberspace.
  • There is a complete lack of legislation regarding this issue.
  • Increasing vulnerability of children because of the (huge) generation gap in IT knowledge and the increasing Internet connectivity. 

What needs to happen:

The welfare and protection of children is a common responsibility for society as a whole. This includes adult individuals as well as governmental, nongovernmental and commercial organizations. Therefore, all concerned stakeholders should work together in a joined effort to guarantee Nepali children their right to protection online, by instigating appropriate and timely measures.

Based on the initial findings of children's exposure to pornography via Internet in Nepal, CWIN has taken the initiative to instigate a project/campaign to address the issue of online child protection.

The main objectives of the project:

Investigate the particularities of the Nepal online situation and online behaviour of Nepali children.

Create sustained awareness programs among children, parents, teachers and IT centres (cybercafés and rural tele-centres), regarding the possible risks online. Provide information on safe Internet behaviour for caretakers, to enable them to support children in cyberspace, and for children, to empower them and increase their resilience. (Safety leaflets and posters are already produced and are ready for dissemination).

Make the internet a safer place for Nepali children by forming workgroups of government, IT industries, telecommunication sector and child rights organizations, to create and implement measures to protect children online.

Actions

1. Situation Analysis

Organize focus meetings with schoolchildren and parents from the Kathmandu valley and conduct sample surveys by distributing questionnaires for children and parents in various schools, in order to find out more about Nepali children's behaviour online (e.g. which websites they visit and what kind of activity they employ on the internet and so on).

2. Awareness Campaign

Produce awareness materials for children and parents and distribute those via schools and cyber café's throughout the Kathmandu valley and other areas where children are known to have internet access. These materials include two different kind of leaflets for preteens and adolescents, leaflets for parents/teachers and posters with safety advice. The materials will be disseminated through various means including CWIN networks and CWIN field offices.

Carry out radio campaign targeting young people to raise awareness on the issues in partnership with FIT Nepal, which is an NGO working for extending IT access to young people in Nepal.

3. Advocacy

Stakeholders meeting: Organize and conduct an initial meeting of stakeholders to investigate the particular situation and possibilities to protect children online in Nepal and instigate joined initiatives of IT industry, government and child rights organisations to formulate and put into action various kind of measures for online child protection in Nepal. The stakeholders should include representatives of different government departments, like ministries of social welfare, education, information/communication and justice, as well as representatives of ISP's, cyber café's and child right organisations. In addition to possible partners, we will invite members of the media and press, as coverage of this issue would be very beneficial in helping to raise awareness.

Preliminary meeting of cyber café's: Prior to the official stakeholders meeting there will be a separate meeting with cybercafé owners and ISP's to gather information and assess the technical possibilities for child protection as well as the level of commitment regarding their social corporate responsibility. As there are no associations or other kind of collaborations of cyber café's in Nepal, one of the activities prior to the meeting will involve gathering addresses and data of the approximately 200 cyber café's in Kathmandu and collecting other basic information regarding the kind of services they offer etc, selecting not more than 30 representatives to attend the meeting.

Second meeting with cyber café's: To work towards establishing a code of conduct, at least one second meeting will be held with cyber café's and possibly ISP's. After establishing the first steps towards a code of conduct or similar activities, cybercafés throughout Nepal will be contacted and become involved.

It may be clear, that in order to achieve a successful stakeholders meeting, thorough lobbying with both IT industries and governmental departments is required beforehand.

FIT Nepal, who has made a short film on this issue 2 years ago, has recently joined CWIN's initiative, focusing on mobilising the IT community in particular and facilitating a sustained and fruitful collaboration.

4. Follow up

This project aims to bring the relevant partners together and set up one stakeholders meeting. Depending on the outcome of the initial meeting and level of commitment of the various parties, there are different possibilities for follow up. Whatever form this might take, we firmly regard a follow up of this initiative necessary in order to attempt to protect Nepali children online.

To facilitate a follow up, the minimum activity required of CWIN will be to continue lobbying with government and IT industries, as well as to keep disseminating awareness materials in the Kathmandu valley and throughout other major urban areas in Nepal. Furthermore, child safety in cyberspace will be integrated into CWIN Advocacy on Child Rights.

5. Networking

CWIN will work for alliance building with other organizations concerned on the issue and will try to form a concern group or a network in the future to continue the campaign.

Expected outcomes:

The stakeholders meeting should act as a stepping stone towards concrete workgroups which are working towards:

  • Establishment and implementation of a code of conduct for cyber café's regarding child safety
  • Establishment of a workgroup with ISP's to initiate measures for blocking access to child porn internet content (sites as well as newsgroups), establishment of a notice and take down procedure.
  • Establishment of a hotline for reporting on child pornography as well as online abuse and disturbing experiences of children. This service can be incorporated into the already existing helpline run by CWIN
  • New legislation by the government on cyberspace and internet technologies like downloading, spreading and viewing of child porn and grooming of children, as well as possible legislation or regulation for exploitation of cyber cafe's.
  • Integration of online safety information into the educational system e.g. including safety information in the computer training at school and including internet safety information into education for teachers. 

2. The distributions of awareness materials through schools will raise awareness amongst parents, caretakers and children.

The information provided for children and young people will empower them to protect themselves online and encourage a safer and more responsible attitude on the use of internet.

The information provided for teachers and parents will give them a better idea of the children's behaviour on the internet, highlight possible dangers and provide them with information on how to accompany and protect their children online.