I REFER to the report “Enraged by rape of four-year-old girl “ (The Star, July 4; online at bit.ly/star_rage). It is profoundly sad to read about this latest case of sexual abuse involving a primary school- boy who did not fathom the implication of his act on the poor girl. This is the cost of accessing the Internet without parental control that led him to pornographic sites.
We are enraged. Netizens are outraged. The nation is shocked. But the inconvenient truth is that we as parents, as a community and nation have failed to protect children while letting them grow to realise their full potential. We fail to create a safe and conducive environment that facilitates the socialisation of children in a way that will impart knowledge and values that mould children, developing their character and forming their moral as well as behavioral attitudes.
We failed to take immediate follow-up action on the findings of a survey conducted by the National Population and Family Planning Board in 2014 that showed 29.9% of teenagers (13 to 17 years old) and 42.8% of young adults (18 to 24 years old ) were exposed to pornographic materials.
The findings identified the major sources of pornographic materials to be the Internet (60.8%) and smartphones (35%). These findings should have raised the red flag to alert parents and guardians to the need to provide stringent control of access to the Internet and to exert parental guidance and supervision.
Exposure to pornographic material may lead to moral decadence and a decline of morality among teenagers and young adults; it could also breed social ills such as promiscuity, sexual abuse, rape and unwanted pregnancies.
Government agencies entrusted with planning and resolving social issues failed to use the survey findings to craft policies, programmes and plans of action to address the issue. Only the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry used the findings to implement a campaign to create awareness among secondary students about the danger of sexual promiscuity and unwanted pregnancies.
Socialisation is the process by which children learn how to become responsible citizens by acquiring from various sources the rules and norms of appropriate, socially correct behaviour. Tradi-tionally, the major sources or influencers are, in descending order, families and relatives, neighbourhood, community, school, peer group, and media. But in today’s world that is dominated by digital technology and the Internet, social media and online sites are now exerting greater influence on the socialisation process of children.
Today, children spend more time surfing the Internet and engaging with social media. These online spaces can be enriching if they are used wisely but the downside is the risk of exposing children to unhealthy and harmful elements including bullying, abuse and sexual exploitation. Therefore, there is a need for parents to equip themselves with digital parenting skills for better online child protection.
The Women, Family and Community Development Ministry and Unicef (United Nations Children’s Fund) have taken the initiative by organising a forum on Digital Parenting and Child Online Protection.
Parents must be made aware that the risks encountered online by children can be categorised into content risks, contact risks and conduct risks.
Content risks occur when a child is exposed to unwelcome and inappropriate content such as pornographic, violent or racist images, and websites advocating dangerous behaviours such as suicide or self-harm.
Contact risks is when a child participates in risky communication with a stranger who is soliciting a child for sexual purposes or radicalising the child.
Conduct risks occur when a child behaves in a way that contributes to content or contact risks, such as writing and disseminating hateful materials or distributing sexual images, etc.
In light of this unfortunate
case, the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry and Unicef should organise more such forums at the state level to create nationwide awareness of the dangers that the Internet
and social media can hold for children.
Digital parenting begins at home. The family is the basic unit of society. It is a social institution that provides the framework for emotional, financial and material support for the growth and development of the children. It is crucial to spend quality time to ensure the socialisation process and education of children achieve the desired outcome.
Nelson Mandela said, “History will judge us by the difference we make in the everyday lives of children”. Let us create the right environment where every child is protected so that every child learns, lives and thrives in a safe and clean environment with an equitable chance in life.
DATUK WEE BENG EE