Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and Internet use have increased very much both nationally and internationally. This has enabled many to use the ICT and the Internet for so many good things. It has allowed people to learn new knowledge, interact with others and entertain themselves. While engaging on the plethora of good adventure, others are also using the Internet to do bad things. People use ICT to abuse both adults and children but most victims are children because they cannot determine the intentions of the unknown person they interact with online. With about 40% of children and young people between the ages of 0-14years in Ghana having access to ICTs in 2015, children are exposed to various forms of abuses including:
- The presentation of real or stimulated explicit sexual activities of the child primarily for sexual purposes (child pornography).
- Intentional proposal by adults to meet children without sexual consent to engage them in sexual activities (online grooming).
- The exchange of sexually explicit messages or images (sexting).
- The deliberate support of hostile behaviour by an individual to harm others (cyberbullying).
These forms of abuses mentioned can occur anywhere ICT devices and Internet service are and Ghana is not an exception. The fast and increasing pace of these abuses have persuaded international agencies like the International Telecommunications Union, transnational and national corporations, states and concerned stakeholders to design policies, laws and other interventions to help protect children and young people online from abuse and victimization while making the virtual space friendly for people’s use. Ghana is a signatory to several International Charters on ICT, Internet and child online protection laws and is expected to design domestic policies and laws to regulate the use of ICT and Internet as well as children and young people’s safety online is concerned.
In a study conducted by World Vision International Ghana in August 2015, a key partner of J Initiative comparing Ghana’s domestic laws on Child online protection against the International laws that it has signed onto, it is clear Ghana has not done much when it comes to online safety. The study revealed that Ghana is a signatory to nine (9) international laws on ICT and Internet use and child online protection, out of which three (3) identified gaps in Ghana’s domestic laws compared to good practices at the ECOWAS/AU level especially to guide Ghana’s response to ICT crimes committed against children and young people while Six others are domestic legislations that protect the rights and /or violence against children in Ghana. Of the six domestic laws, which include the Criminal Code, 1960 (Act 29), The Juvenile Act, 2003 (Act 653), The Children’s Act, 1998 (Act 560) The Electronic Transaction Act, 2008 (Act 772), Data Protection Act, 2012 and the Criminal Amendment Act, 2012. It is only the Electronic Transaction Act that criminalizes the production, distribution, importing and exporting as well as the possession of child pornography.
Apart from child pornography, the other domestic laws are silent on other forms of child online abuses such as cyberbullying, sexting and online grooming of minors. In other words, there are no laws that criminalize the advertisement of child sex tourism online, aggravated penalties for the use of ICT to commit crime against children, prohibiting contents harmful to children as well as mandatory institutions to report crimes committed against children using ICT.
As part of efforts to remain relevant as a country in the information technology era, the nation developed and implemented the Ghana ICT for Accelerated Development Policy to address the developmental challenges by improving the efficiency and coverage of government service delivery through ICT. This has seen an increase in the usage of ICT in the country both for the government and among citizen and remarkably earned the country a spot as one of the countries with high level of cybercrime.
In the midst of growing extremism, where aggressively violent groups are using the Internet to recruit their members, the country has no laws to protect discerning adults and vulnerable children. The country is legislatively vulnerable to professionals of child online abuse who will take advantage of this vulnerability to abuse children they meet online.
Children and young people exposed to online abuses can suffer from depression, emotional insecurity, increased aggressiveness, and mental/physical health problems. JI and partners are not preaching morality but speaking about realities of the digital age; research shows that exposure to inappropriate content can lead to rape. Prolonged abuse can also affect the socialization of children with friends, family, and authorities. There is no point in waiting to see all the children in Ghana getting abused in all forms to start organizing workshops or conferences about addressing the issue.
It will be crucial to amend appropriate domestic laws for child online protection to prevent and stop child abuse and exploitation committed by and with the use ICTs. J Initiative, World Vision International Ghana and other partners wish to request of the Government of Ghana and responsible agencies to utilize the one thread to make a stitch before the digital migration process is completed later this year by:
- Reviewing Ghana’s National ICT for Accelerated Development policy to include Online Safety to enable schools to adopt child friendly materials to empower learners in schools.
- Clarifying the meaning of “sexually explicit conduct” in the Electronic Transaction Act, 2008 (Act 772).
- Criminalizing importing or exporting of Child pornography as well as the access and visualization of child pornography.
- Requesting the reporting of Child pornography by relevant actors.
Rather than having to use all nine when the worse happens just because we have failed to act on time. Ghanaians cannot wait to see young people’s images scattered online for the wrong reasons before we start to call for policies to remove them.
J Initiative is intensifying education, awareness and advocacy on child online protection, Digital literacy and safety. Teachers, Parents, children/young people, industry players including the media, academia, Government and a special mention of the judiciary,law enforcement and Social welfare have a role to play for a comprehensive child online protection system in Ghana. Let’s all join the fight.