Battle for the young minds

The responsibility of what websites children can access or programmes they watch lies with the parents.

Beatrice Kerubo Nyamache has access to the Internet and satellite TV in her Nairobi house where she lives with her teenage niece and son.

As a parent with a keen interest in the social and mental well-being of the children, controlling their access to the Web and TV content has been imperative, especially for her 16-year-old impressionable niece.

Her son, aged two, is too young to use the Internet and mainly uses the computer to play games. “The one in real danger of being exposed to harmful material is my niece who loves browsing the Internet, both for fun and school work,” says Ms Nyamache.

Afraid of what sites her niece can access in her absence, Beatrice opted to limit the girl’s access to the Internet by disconnecting it every time she left the house or whenever there is no adult supervision.

“I use passwords to lock the Internet connection when I leave the house. I only allow the children to use the Internet when I am in the house and can monitor them,” she said.

Kerubo is the face of many Kenyan parents who are grappling with the dilemma of technological advancements, especially for children with access to the Internet on multiple devices including computers, tablets and smart phones.

In most Kenyan towns, children have numerous platforms to access the Internet, including cable television that air programs with age restrictions.

Open Internet and cable television have become more dangerous to child development in recent times as access becomes easier.

“A developing mind can easily be lured to anti-social activity and must be protected from that by guardians or parents,” says Muriuki Mureithi, a technology analyst and managing director of Summit Strategies.


Securing children from harmful cyber material has become a great challenge to the policy makers and industry players alike.

Mr Muriuki insists that the issue of Internet security has become much bigger than earlier thought and a complex one that has to be addressed.

“More recently, the government has been trying to formulate policies to deal with issues such as hate speech and intrusion of privacy through social media, but the issue of security for children is complex,” says Mr Muriuki.

And solutions have been forthcoming. Parents with satellite TV at home, such as Zuku and MultiChoice, have tested means of restricting what channels and programs their children can watch using a password.

These service providers even offer features that track what the children are watching, a feat that can be difficult to achieve on the Web, where the history of sites visited can be cleared.

The situation is complicated by the fact that new sites are added to the Internet every day. Although some service providers offer advice, the responsibility of monitoring lies with the parents.

Kenya has seen increased connectivity in the past three years with the most recent industry data showing that broadband subscription in the first quarter of 2012 rose by 394 per cent to 651,738, compared to the previous quarter.

AccessKenya, which started home connectivity internet series in 2008, has connected 4,700 homes or 10 per cent of its total connections.

Kris Senanu, AccessKenya’s Internet division managing director, says the past one year has seen an increase in customers asking for protection options for their home based Internet.

“At first, most of our clients would just ask for home connection, but in the last one year we have seen more of them express concern over Internet security, especially for their children,” he said.

Most service providers have come up with voluntary and free advisory services for their clients on how to protect children.

Zuku, which offers triple play services – including broadband, TV and phone services, has also come up with features that allow parents to control how children access their programs and the Internet.

“We are able to block unsecured sites, pornographic sites and any sites that expose the children to any security threat,” Felix Odede, Zuku Relations manager told the Business Daily.


Telecommunication companies have also introduced parental control features in their modems, which are becoming ever more popular with consumers.

Telkom Orange offers control features on its 3G modems, allowing guardians to restrict access to some websites.

During the launch of the service last year, the company said it had been necessitated by rising concerns over protection of children from unwarranted content on the Internet.

The feature assigns parents the network administrator’s role, giving them the power to effectively restrict Web content that unsupervised minors can access.

Users are required to enter a password that is mapped to different levels of protection. Parents select from three levels of control Junior, Teenager or Adult, based on the users of the computer – and there are different icons that indicate the status of the features.

MultiChoice decoders have an option of parental code where guardians can put in a pin code and use the blocking option to stop children from accessing certain channels or programs.

It also allows for different access levels, depending on the minors in the household.


Schools too have not been left behind with some curriculums encouraging students to get online to research.

Recently, Starehe Boys Centre introduced tablets in the school to help students in their studies. This development will create major opportunities for the students and the school but also poses challenges.

“We are aware that the Internet has some security challenges, but we will block all sites except the recommended one to protect our students,” says Isaac Kinyanjui, the ICT teacher at Starehe Boys Centre.

Social media and chat rooms are posing a major concern for parents because they expose the minors to strangers online.

“It’s a major concern for any parent whose child has access to the Internet. Your child chatting with a stranger…that’s not good news for any parent,” said Kerubo.

Some chat rooms have age limit policies to deter underage users from accessing them. However, this is not full-proof as the children, especially teenagers, can circumvent this by creating new accounts with fake ages.

This is also the case when it comes to websites of alcohol companies that require one to declare their age, above 18, to access the website.

To access the content of Sierra Premium, a local brewing company, one has to acknowledge if they are above the age of 18, as stipulated by the law. It’s the same case for EABL and Viva Product line, a distributor of major alcoholic brands.

The companies absolve themselves of any blame leaving it up to the parents to ensure the children are not accessing these websites. A number of software exist, some free online, that can be used to block the access to certain websites or monitor the websites visited.

These software have features that even allow sending of alerts to parents if certain websites are visited and can work on PCs and MacBooks.

There are also applications for tablets and smartphones blocking access to these sites. Kris says that most of the windows such as Window 7, Vista, have parental control features making it handy for parents to use.
Business Daily




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