Uganda to develop a National Action Plan on online child sexual abuse and exploitation
12 per cent of Ugandan girls between 12 and 17 years were asked to share a photo/video of their private parts, a new study finds
Uganda will be the first country to develop a National Child Protection Action Plan that will implement recommendations from a recent study that found disturbing evidence of online child sexual exploitation and abuse in the country.
The Commissioner for Children and Youth in the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Fred Ngabirano, announced the plans during the launch of the ‘Disrupting Harm’ report at Protea Hotel in Kampala on 16 November 2021.
“Next year (2022), the Ministry will put aside Shs5 million (US$1,500) to start work on this Action Plan and the team will be reporting to the Ministry and our Partners like UNICEF every quarter,” Ngabirano said.
‘Disrupting Harm’ is a large-scale collaborative research study on online child sexual abuse and exploitation (OCSEA) that targeted internet-using children between the ages 12 and 17 years across 13 countries in Asia, East and Southern Africa.
The study was conducted by ECPAT, INTERPOL and UNICEF’s Office of Research-Innocenti with funding from the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children. The Government of Uganda, through the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, INTERPOL’s Ugandan Bureau and UNICEF Uganda, supported the granular data collection.
Data from the household survey of children showed that 40 per cent of 12-17-year-olds in Uganda are internet users – a higher proportion of whom are boys (45 per cent) compared to girls (35 per cent), mostly in urban areas. More than half of these children go online daily and 33 per cent only get online access at least once a week.
According to the study’s findings, 12 per cent of the female respondents said they were asked for a photo or video of their private parts and 19 per cent of these respondents had complied.
The research also found that offenders of online child sexual abuse and exploitation are people the child already knew and took place on social media platforms. The most used platforms for OCSEA were WhatsApp, Facebook and Facebook Messenger.
Additionally, most of the children did not tell anyone about sexual abuse and exploitation.
The victims who opened up spoke to their close friends and siblings despite the finding that family members were more likely to commit sexual violence to children. Only one in five cases of OCSEA was committed by a stranger.
The study found that law enforcement agencies, the justice system, and social service structures lacked awareness, capacity and resources to respond to online sexual abuse and exploitation cases.
The study recommended that the government includes online child protection in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) guidelines so that the Ministry of Education can add OCSEA into the curriculum of computer classes as this will help students understand the risks of online use, recognise and report abuse.
There is also an urgent need to support caregivers, teachers, and medical staff with knowledge of digital platforms to monitor what and who children are communicating with online.
While the study found that most children can operate smartphones better than their parents and caregivers, taking away gadgets from children or restricting their access was not recommended.
“Restriction of children is not the answer to disrupting harm and might have the opposite effect instead. When children are gagged, they start to withhold information and this can be more harmful,” said Dr. Jane Muita, UNICEF Uganda’s Deputy Representative.
Instead, the study recommended capacity building and increased funding to law enforcement agencies, the judiciary, civil society and schools for a multi-sectoral approach.
As Rogers Kasirye, the Executive Director of Uganda Youth Development Link (UYDEL), noted, “We have disrupted many harms in Uganda before. If we start at our homes, then move to schools and give this information to children early enough. We shall disrupt OCSEA.”