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Gov’t helpline insufficient for girls harassed on the internet – Activists

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development has asked children who continue facing a risk of being harassed and exposed to inappropriate materials as they study over the internet to report such cases directly to them through the government toll-free line, also known as the Uganda child helpline 116.

Mondo Kyateeka, the commissioner of youth and children’s affairs says that girls need to start reporting cases of cyber harassment through the line, noting that all through the lockdown which involved school closures, they were receiving other cases such as sexual assault, incest and torture.

He said when girls report these cases, then they will be helped to apprehend the online criminals, noting that children are not being listened to enough at home to establish whoever threatens their peace. He was speaking at a symposium which was part of the events to mark the International Day of the Girl Child observed annually in October, on Friday.

In enabling children to report, Kyateeka says they have a bigger plan to build a cadre of young girls that are confident considering that cyberbullying has even extended to powerful women citing the US Vice President Harris Kamala’s abuse campaign that involved sexualized messages flooding social media.

But the suggestion of just encouraging girls to report will not help much, according to rights activists. James Yesiga, the country manager for a Swiss child relief agency, Teerre Des Hommes says instead of relying on children reporting all problems of access to the internet and aiding gadgets, the government ought to have how to make safe digital spaces more accessible at as low as the sub-county level.

Away from the helpline, Yesiga says the government needs to be proactive and develop technologies that can be able to identify abusers and there’s prompt notification of authorities when a risk factor is detected.

To him, recent moves such as the 12 percent tax on the internet are only cutting back on children being able to access the internet and familiarize themselves with it while employing controls like age-appropriate ratings.

Meanwhile, up to twenty girls that URN surveyed by asking them to raise up their hands at the symposium had never heard about the existence of such helplines where they can call in to seek help.

Seventeen-year-old Olive Adong who was among the girls says they have been using google class and WhatsApp for up to a year but many times while using, messages from strangers pop up requesting meet ups and sexual advances.

Such are the things that the ministry want to be reported but Adong says she wouldn’t report for fear of being discriminated against.

Meanwhile, according to Tobby Ojok who heads Youth Engagement at Plan International Uganda, he urges the government to urgently find a viable solution to cyberbullying saying that it just doesn’t expose a child to inappropriate content but also adversely affects their mental health.

He says they did a survey and in every ten girls that they spoke to, nine reported either encountering false information online, being bullied or accessing unsolicited pornographic content.

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