REASONS WHY ATTENDING THE EMEA CHILD SAFETY SUMMIT WAS SIGNIFICANT

Back when I was in school at University of Wolverhampton, I always wanted to travel around Europe to see other countries but I never got the chance so imagine my excitement when I got the invitation to attend the EMEA child safety summit in Dublin. I was finally fulfilling one of my  dreams ☺ .

I immediately filled out the application and submitted for a visa but days turned into weeks till it was a day to the summit and I still hadn’t gotten my passport back. I had already lost hope when my husband said “why don’t you send them an email?” and long story short I got a call to come to the embassy and there I got my stamped passport yay!!

So you are probably thinking it was just a summit so why all the fuss? I’ll tell you why I thought attending the summit was so important.

First of all it was my first time in Ireland and even though I had been to England it was a different experience, for one I love their accent! plus I think they are bubbly friendly people I also think that the stereotype of the Irish loving alcohol is totally true (in a good way!). Only next time I’m in Ireland, I would be bringing a bit of the Nigerian sun with me…I was freezing!

Secondly as a mother of two boys my ultimate wish is that my kids develop well both mentally and physically and above all are safe. Children benefit enormously from the communication and information potential of the internet, however there are many issues which need to be addressed relating to the content on the internet which can be damaging to kids.

                                                                       My Boys and I

The two day summit focused on showing frontline practitioners how to protect children from online dangers. The summit which was organised by Google and facebook brought together academics, NGOs, charities and politicians to share their expertise and progress as well as new plans and products for child online safety.

The first day of the summit held at Google’s stunning office. entering into the office, the first thing I noticed was my name and names of other participants beautifully scrolling on the stairs  and I thought it was the coolest thing. We were then welcomed by their friendly and well dressed staff and after the registrations we were treated to a gorgeous display of tea and finger foods.

The day started with a speech by the Irish Minister for communications Denis Naughten. The minister gave a welcome speech and thanked everyone for their tireless efforts in making sure that young people are protected online.

There were a number of inspiring and motivating speakers who spoke about various skills, tools and products that can be used to ensure that kids are safe while using the internet, but one of my favourite moments that really resonated with me was a presentation by Ms Rachel Madden (Google public policy team) she presented about a new application created by the Google team for parents called “family link”.

With Family link parents can stay in the loop as kids explore their devices, the application was designed to help parents set digital ground rules that work for the family like managing apps that kids can use, keeping an eye on their screen time and setting bed time on kids device. The application was designed for kids under 13 and it allows parents control and monitor their children’s online activity till they turn 13.

After listening to her I thought “wow! how awesome is that” I was  excited about this because I had an incident with my 6 year old son were he asked for my phone to do his homework and when I picked it up to use, I tried to search for something online and realised that he had searched for the word “breasts”.  That incident left me constantly thinking of ways to ensure that he was safe and responsible while using the internet.  

Imagine my disappointment when I found out that “Family Link” was only created for the United States. I began to think about the fact that the Minister in his speech mentioned that Ireland had a minister for children and he also listed some legislations that were enacted regarding child safety. At that moment I realised that Nigeria and indeed Africa has some major obstacles to overcome in the area of child safety.

This brings me to the motivational speech by barrister Taiwo Akinlami, a total child development expert who advocates for securing a friendly and protective environment for children . Bar Akinlami shared his heartbreaking childhood experience and used it to illustrate why child protection should be given top priority in our societies. In his words “Children are not created to raise themselves”. His speech reflected the fact that he had a bad upbringing because of the kind of society in which he grew up in. he didn’t get adequate love and attention as a kid and that led to a whole lot of issues in his adult life.

Another focal point of the summit was the emphasis of making sure that parents are involved in their children’s online life. Like I mentioned about my son earlier, I couldn’t even scold him about what he did because I knew I hadn’t really given him the “internet safety talk”. I think it’s very vital for parents to ensure that the same values they give their kids offline should also be applied online.This is important  because children look up to us as their guide in life and making sure that they are safe is our topmost priority.

The second day of the summit organised by facebook held at its headquarters. There were talks on child sexual exploitation imagery, nudity, human trafficking and exploitation. It was interesting to see that facebook has done a lot to come up with policies and tools to ensure that kids are protected on social media.

There was another very important topic of discussion on bullying and resilience by Dr Sameer Hinduja. He showed us ways in which to prevent bullying and how to build resilience in kids using activities, movies and books. Bullying is another topic that is often neglected in this part of the world, we held a workshop recently on educating parents on online safety for their kids and one of the parents talked about her son that was being cyber bullied in school and he never had the courage to tell her about it, she only found out about it  from her friend’s son.

All issues regarding children should never be taken for granted because children are the future of our nation   what are we as parents, teachers and as a country doing to protect children from sexual material sexual solicitations, threats, and harrassments they encounter online?

Safer internet Nigeria is working tirelessly to ensure that this internet safety message is out there, we have celebrated safer internet day for two years running and we are also grooming webrangers in various schools across the country in becoming web ambassadors. But we can’t do it all so we have put together strategies that we intend to implement to ensure the government’s participation in this project.

Another great work from Africa is that of Child helpline an organisation that helps to establish, promote and strengthen child help lines everywhere so that children’s voices may be heard and their right to protection, provision and participation can be ensured.  Richard Ombono their sub-saharan representative took us through their inspiring website  (click here to watch their amazing video)

The summit had no long speeches, it was simply child care practitioners around the world connecting, sharing and helping each other to tackle child safety challenges.

The presenters spoke passionately and  brilliantly shared their expertise and best practice on key policy as related to child online safety which will enable participants and child care practitioners to become more effective in promoting a child protection focus in relation to the internet and new and emerging technologies.

Attending this summit has helped me gather crucial information, tips and ideas that will help my organisation and country in coming up with practical steps that will increasingly guide children’s online activity.

The speakers, the venue, the food and on-hand staff made my stay away from my kids worthwhile. I didn’t pay to attend this event and the credit goes to my Organisation Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC) and Google. I am glad i was part of such a rewarding experience.

 

This article was first published on medium and was written by Mbanan Mku

Mbanan Mku is a Safer Internet Fellow with the Nigeria Integrity Film Awards (Homevida) and is passionate about creating an online safe haven for kids.

Webrangers!! Raising Online Super Heroes In Nigeria

Since I was a child I’ve always loved taking care of my younger ones. I come from a family of five girls and a younger brother. Having no older male sibling gave people the impression that they can intimidate my siblings and I any how they see fit. That impression gave me the courage and push to always stand up and defend my siblings against bullies both at school and in our neighborhood.  Although very quiet, I managed to use my quietness to really strategize on the best ways to protect my younger ones without being violent. At school I would hear whispers like “don’t look for her trouble or that of any of her siblings, only God knows what she is thinking”’. That made my classmates call me some unpleasant names that I can’t even write down.

My early experience  of having to protect myself and my siblings led me  down the path of always looking out for children both informally and formally. As a pharmacologist by degree, I adopted a new skill which enabled me carry out my volunteering work in different child care centers. I also worked as an Au pair not just for the money but because of my love for children and my desire to keep them safe.

Few years ago I got harassed and bullied online by one of my facebook friend called Victor as i still recall. He sent a friend request which i accepted and months later he started sending annoying messages and calling me all kinds of disturbing and horrible names. Due to the fact that am sometimes on/off on facebook, one of my cousins called me to inform me that someone is posting some nasty comments on my pictures and Facebook page. As at that time, i knew nothing about internet safety and cyber-bullies and that made the experience so devastating for me. He threatened to trace my whereabout and hunt me down but unfortunately for him i wasn’t in Nigeria at the time of the incident. The mistake I made was responding back to the bully, trying to defend myself which made the situation even worse for me. I managed to delete all the nasty comments and eventually blocked the bully. However i now know better that whatever goes online stays online no matter the years to come. Because I hardly responded to Victor’s constant annoying messages, i came to conclusion that he decided to be mean and bully me in order to get my attention. I recovered eventually but took a longer time for me to recover  psychologically.

After my National Youth Service Corp (NYSC), I got a job and was excited when I was told that part of my job responsibility is to engage teenagers on Internet safety measures. For a little over a year now, I’ve been part of the team training students on how to stay safe on the internet while still enjoying all the benefits the internet offers and also building them into becoming Webrangers;online super heroes safeguarding the web to help make it a safe space for all users. They do this by developing positive messaging campaigns by themselves on cyber-bullying. This year, we kicked off our first wave of Webrangers training on the 13th of May and trained about 1000 Lagos State Model College Students on Internet Safety and the need to become a Webranger.

It was indeed an interactive, informative and educative learning experience not just for the students but also for their principals and teachers present. They got to understand that the best way to respond to cyberbullying is by Ignoring, Reporting and Blocking (IRB) the person.

The students watched various short films centred around online safety and cyberbullying. They also watched  Fatimah’s documentary; our 2016 Webranger who narrated her journey as the first Nigerian Webranger. The students opened up on their personal cyber-bullying experiences while committing to become Webrangers to protect themselves and others online.

There were lots of fun activities. The students were given the opportunity to showcase their creative and artist positive messaging campaigns on cyber-bullying. Each group boldly presented their work and took pictures with their designs. One group initiated a slogan “No bullying” More buddies”.  The rest of the students were excited as they joined the bandwagon in staying no to cyber-bullying.

There’s nothing wrong with the internet neither is the Internet bad  but the problem is when people use the Internet to do bad and terrifying things. So it’s everyone’s responsible to help make the internet a safer space for all users. Yes, let’s Say No To Cyber-bullying.

This article was first published on medium and was written by Chidimma Udeh

Chidimma Udeh is a Safer Internet Fellow with the Nigeria Integrity Film Awards (Homevida) and is passionate about safeguarding kids and teens online.