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FPB zones in on cyber safety for Child Protection Week

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The Film and Publication Board (FPB) has decided to prioritise online safety of young people as part of this year’s national Child Protection Week commemoration.

This week, SA marks Child Protection Week, an initiative of the Department of Social Development, to raise awareness of the rights of children in accordance with the Children's Act of 2005. It aims to mobilise all sectors of society to ensure that children are cared for and protected.

In recent months, South Africa has witnessed a spate of cyber bullying and face-to-face bullying incidents in schools across the country. In April, a Limpopo teenager, Lufuno Mavhunga, committed suicide after a video of her being bullied went viral on social media.

To drive the message of child online safety, the FPB says it will be visiting 20 communities and schools this week.

Its message will be delivered through a series of intensified workshops in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the Western Cape, while the online campaign can be accessed nationally through its Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube channels, it states.

According to the FPB, Mavhunga’s case was a stark wake-up call for parents, teachers and caregivers that they need to be much more involved in their children’s digital lives.

Abongile Mashele, acting CEO of the FPB, says: “As a nation, we find ourselves immersed in the reality of social distancing. At this time the reliance on the Internet and social media to remain socially connected has seen technology’s grip on our citizens deepen to new levels. From streaming movies for entertainment to attending school online – the digital space has many positive selling points. However, we still need to guard against the threats that it poses, especially for the young and vulnerable.”

Mashele points out that a digital device makes many people feel untouchable, and the same restraint that someone might feel in person seems to dissipate when they post hurtful, prejudiced or violent content online.

This is especially prevalent among the younger generation – the consequences attached to actions committed in a digital world seem less real, she states.

The FPB’s convergence survey, which assesses various aspects of media consumption and behaviour in SA, shows more than 35% of parents do not monitor their children’s online presence.

“This means that our children are left exposed to potential cyber criminals, sexual predators and cyber bullies. Children are not psychologically or emotionally equipped to deal with this kind of trauma and need to be educated on the risks faced when online,” states Mashele.

Recent data revealed by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research showed that cyber bullying is most prevalent on social media platforms, with popular photo- and video-sharing app Instagram accounting for 42% of such behaviour online.

Other social media platforms such as Facebook account for 37%, while 31% of bullying occurs on Snapchat, 12% on WhatsApp, 10% on YouTube and 9% on Twitter.

The FPB notes that online harassment is just the tip of the cyber iceberg among children. What’s most concerning are the images of child sexual abuse material and sexual conduct circulated by youth on peer-to-peer networks as well as social media.

“Sexual predators find an anonymous home on the Internet, where it is easy to build a persona that is very different from reality and that can be used to exploit others. Stranger danger is a mantra that caregivers should be teaching their children in the real as well as virtual world.”

This Child Protection Week and youth month, the FPB calls on parents, caregivers and community activists to step up and be the moral compass that children need to steer successfully through a digital world.

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