More than 95 percent of children in South Africa have access to the Internet regularly, but their risky online behavior can expose them to online violence, exploitation and abuse, according to a UNICEF report. The study further reveals that children who have been sexually exploited online prefer not to share their experiences or trauma about the incident, which in-turn can have a devastating long-term impact on their mental health and emotional wellbeing. Children and their caregivers urgently need more information and support regarding online safety, with only 41 per cent of children surveyed having received any information on online safety.
There is growing recognition that children in sub-Saharan Africa are vulnerable to HIV-transmission through sexual abuse and exploitation including child rape, early coitus, and ‘sugar daddies’. Any child, irrespective of social status, race, gender or ethnicity is can be a victim of online sexual exploitation and abuse. However, children who lost their primary caregivers to HIV, especially those from child-headed homes are more vulnerable to online sexual exploitation and abuse by adult groomers and sugar daddies.
In creating opportunities for historically disadvantaged groups to be part of the tech economy, GLLI also recognizes the need to protect vulnerable children from the dibilitating consequences of being exposed to the worldwide web. This is why GLLI created the SurfSMART project.
SurfSMART is a culturally inclusive internet safety education program that empowers vulnerable students, especially those impacted by HIV/AIDS and their ecosystem (teachers, parents, and guardians) to protect themselves against online sexual exploitation, sexual abuse, grooming and cyber-bullying. The curriculum which is designed by GLLI is delivered through workshops and student-driven school clubs by trained Learner Support Agents (LSA). LSAs are school-based volunteers employed by the Department of Education to provide support to students.
In 2021, in partnership with Google’s African Online Safety Fund, and Mthatha District Department of Education, GLLI piloted this SurfSMART in 15 schools in the OR Tambo District in the Eastern Cape, with 4100 students, 512 parents, and 108 teachers in 2021.
We are currently in the process of raising funds to scale SurfSMART to many more schools in the province where the demand is very high. We hope to relaunch the project in June.
Global Leading Light Initiatives 2020
© GLLI 2020