South Africa to jail parents for internet monitoring failure

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South Africa has started implementing regulations that could see parents sent to jail if they fail to properly monitor their children’s use of the internet.

South Africa’s Ministry of Telecommunications and Postal Services has warned that neglecting to supervise a child’s online activity is a criminal offence. The new measures come after reports that terrorist groups, such as Islamic State are recruiting South African teenagers online.

“We have examples of children who have been recruited online to join armed forces in different parts of the world,” Telecommunications and Postal Services Deputy Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize was quoted as saying yesterday.

The Times reported that the SA government wants to teach parents how to police their offspring’s use of the net. “We are saying that these are risks that families can manage if they don’t abandon that primary responsibility of transferring culture and critical values that young people internalise. Whether you falter online or default in protecting a child from outside technology you are equally responsible,” she said.

In April, the State Security Agency stopped a 15-year-old girl from boarding a plane in Cape Town to join IS. A month later another Cape Town girl was stopped at the airport. In both cases, the parents were in the dark about their daughters’ online activities and shocked to learn of their elaborate plans to join the militants, who are waging war in Iraq and Syria.

In 2008, the parents of a 16-year-old Durban girl were shocked when she ran away with a 44-year-old married father she had met on mobile social service MXit. Police found eight cellphones containing pornographic images of children in the man’s possession.

Mkhize admitted that, although there were laws holding parents responsible for children’s protection online, little action was taken against those who failed to do so. The government has launched an e-parenting programme to give online guidance on the use of social media and the internet to protect children. The programme is to begin in Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal this year.

The president of the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, Joan van Niekerk, explained that the law was “very clear” on protecting children online. The Films and Publications Act made it clear that parents’ negligence in this regard was, in itself, a criminal offence.

But, she said, there was a lack of consistency when it came to sentencing. “We’ve had cases of parental negligence on other issues and sentences are generally quite low. And this is very problematic, because it sends the message out there that this is not a serious matter,” Van Niekerk said.

Marc Hardwick, director of The Guardian child-protection service has devised a contract for parents and children to sign when a child is given a cellphone. “Parents have to take time to be involved in what their children are doing online. You have to know who your kids’ cyber-friends are. You think they are not going to make friends with people they don’t know but they are,” he said.

Arthur Goldstuck, founder of technology market research firm World Wide Worx, said children faced enormous risks online, “especially as more are receiving smartphones that give them access to the internet in their own private spaces”.

“At the same time, parents are abdicating the responsibility of guiding their children into this world, often with the excuse that their children know more about technology than they do. This mix of child access and parental neglect is a toxic combination.”

But, Goldstuck said, the government could not mandate parental involvement in children’s technology lives. “It has to come from parents themselves. There have been numerous wake-up calls, from the basics, like cyber-bullying becoming rife, to the dangerous, like cyber-stalkers exposed, and the deadly, like abductions or recruits to terrorism. If parents still don’t heed the messages being sent almost every day by such events, a government guide might not be very effective,” he said.

In South Korea, it is a legal requirement that parents install a monitoring app when purchasing a phone for their children. – TimesOnline