During the lockdown, countries have strongly relied on IT systems for education and learning. Digital applications have ensured, to the extent possible, continuity for children, teachers and alike parents when schools were closed. Digital technology provides many services and opportunities and many organisations around the world are raising awareness on what they call the ‘digital divide’ that has left many children without the same educational opportunities due to lack of adequate equipment.
Yet, the digital world does not only have advantages. Children, from a young age, are used to surf on the internet and use social media such as Tik Tok, Instagram or Facebook. If they generally use those digital platforms for fun, most of them are not aware of the dangers that exist in the digital environment. The digital world comes with a number of dangers from the misuse of their personal information to cyberbullying or even to online child sexual abuse.
In Mauritius and Rodrigues, children are exposed to those risks. A recent discovery of a pedopornography network in Rodrigues is a cruel reminder of the harm that digital technology can do to children.
How to ensure that children can benefit from the advantages of the digital environment while also being safe and protected?
We have decided to implement a series of actions to alert parents and teachers as well as children themselves to those dangers with a view to adopting a more cautious behaviour while online.
Together with the Ombudsperson for Children Office in Mauritius, we have published a leaflet in simple French language on key actions to fight online child sexual abuse as well as the emergency telephone numbers. The leaflet has been widely distributed to the public in Mauritius with the main weekly newspaper in 60 000 copies, and daily newspapers have also distributed the leaflet.
We have produced a video clip in the form of a cartoon to alert children, teachers and parents on the dangers of the internet. The video will be broadcasted on the national TV during the evening news, which is peak time in Mauritius and Rodrigues.
We have also produced a eco friendly jute bag with the motto "Every child has the same rights" and an exercise book with the article 29 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. More than 1000 copies have been distributed to schools, policy makers, civil society and the public in general in Mauritius. They will soon be distributed in Rodrigues as well.
This is the first time that sensitisation on this important subject is being implemented in Mauritius.
“As the Ombudsperson for Children, I am deeply concerned with the reality that some children of our country are being manipulated online for sexually abusive and exploitative purposes. Videos portraying them engaging in sexual activities are being circulated and indecent images shared on the internet. There is no doubt that the circulation of these sexually explicit materials has caused significant harm to the minors involved and may have long-lasting traumatic effects on their mental health, education and future opportunities”, according to Ms Rita Venkatasawmy.
With this action, we expect to improve the awareness of children, teachers and parents on the dangers of digital technology and encourage them to make a more cautious use of digital platforms.
Promoting and protecting the rights of children in Mauritius and Rodrigues is an action implemented by the Ombudsperson for Children with the support of the European Union.