Helping children stay safe online

4 June 2012

The government has partnered with Google South Africa and the UN Children’s Fund (Unicef) in launching the South African version of the Google Online Family Safety Centre.

The website, www.google.co.za/familysafety/, is available via computer or mobile in English, isiZulu and Afrikaans, and aims to assist parents and caregivers in helping their children navigate the internet safely.

It carries advice on keeping families safe online, cyber bullying, safety tips from other parents, as well as a platform for reporting inappropriate online content.

The site forms the first part of the Online Child Safety Campaign, launched by Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities Lulu Xingwana in Johannesburg last week.

The second phase of the campaign will see workshops taking place in schools and communities to train parents, teachers and children on how to stay safe online.

Empowering parents and children

Speaking at the launch, Xingwana said social networks were central to the day-to-day lives of many young people, and it was important for parents to have regular, open discussions with their children about their experiences on the internet.

“Even though extensive efforts have been put into protecting children online in other countries, not much work has been done in South Africa and the southern African region,” Xingwana said, adding that the campaign was the first of its kind in the country involving government, the private sector and civil society.

She said parents’ approach should not be to scare children away from technology but rather to empower them with ways in which they can use technology responsibly and protect themselves from possible harm.

Mitigating online risks

Google South Africa policy manager Fortune Mgwili Sibanda said that while the internet played a positive role in education and information, it also enabled some of the worst abuse of children.

“The internet is growing at a [fast] pace and has become a playground for our children,” Sibanda said. “We are trying to mitigate the risks online by educating children on how to stay safe online.

“We can’t block them from accessing the internet, as this may lead to them losing out on education and entertainment.”

BuaNews and SAinfo reporter