Nigerian children between the age range of 11-16 years face huge risks online as 93 per cent of them go online using their mobile phones without any safeguard. This is according to the findings of research conducted by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
The survey research, which focused on two age ranges, 11-16, and 4-10 years also found that 45 per cent of children in the latter age range also go online with their mobile phones indicating a high rate of phone ownership among children in Nigeria. According to the researchers, 7,013 respondents were surveyed across Nigeria. While the respondents included children, parents, and teachers, 5,681, representing 81 per cent were children.
“The least popular means of access to the Internet for both age groups is the school. The implication of this is that children often go online mostly through means that are not as actively moderated as either the Internet café or the school. The aggregate effect is that children are inadvertently exposed to more online risks than would have been the case were they to use their schools’ devices to get online,” the researcher stated.
The researchers added that based on the findings, the majority of children in Nigeria receive little or no curation with their online activities from either parents or guardians. “Most parents appear not to have rules about their children’s Internet use particularly with time limits and site restrictions,” they observed.
According to the findings, a staggering 56 per cent of the 11-16 year-olds in both urban and rural areas do not have any form of restriction on their Internet use. “The aggregate implication of this is that this bunch of youngsters can become digital nomads at liberty to wander the cybersphere tethered only by the elasticity of their data bundles,” the researchers said.
They noted that perhaps because of the tenderness of age or ownership of a device, more of the 4-10 years-old children than their 11-16 years-old compatriots enjoy parental moderation of their Internet consumption with 94 per cent enjoying mediation in one form or the other ranging from time limits to restriction of access.
The NCC’s research findings were buttressed by the 2020 Child Online Safety Index report, which ranked Nigerian children sixth globally in disordered use of technology. The country came behind countries such as Oman, which is rated number one in children misuse of technology, followed by the United Kingdom (2nd), Uruguay (3rd), Philippines (4th), and Thailand (5th).
The rating is based on four indices – the severity of gaming disorder symptoms; the percentage of children at risk of gaming disorder; the severity of social media disorder symptoms; and, the percentage of children at risk for social media disorder.
According to the report, digital technology addictions manifest in different forms including excessive viewing of video clips, compulsive video game-playing, and uncontrolled browsing and chatting on social media. Disordered use of technology arises when an individual engages in online activities at the cost of fulfilling daily responsibilities or pursuing other interests and without regard for the negative consequences.
Meanwhile, the NCC’s research also highlighted the various risks faced by children online. According to the report, the survey discovered that unwanted sexual approach in a chat room, social networking site, or email is considered as the biggest threat online by 97 per cent of the 11-16 year-olds in Nigeria. This is followed closely by being sent sexual images or content at 89 per cent. “Cyberbullying incidentally, is not a threat rated highly by the children as only 30 per cent considers it a threat worth worrying about. The children also do not consider the possibility of someone taking unwanted photos of them and circulating them online as a major concern hence only 35 per cent put it forward as a threat.
In their recommendations, the researchers urge Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) in the country to ensure content is classified in line with existing national standards of decency and appropriateness to identify content unsuitable for viewing by children. They also advised the network service providers to provide appropriate means for parents and schools to control children’s access to content classified as only suitable for adult customers in equivalent media.
Schools and teachers were advised to develop educational materials for parents and guardians on how they can support young children in learning and acquiring digital and critical thinking skills for a balanced life. They are also to develop and promote communication strategies outlining how parents can talk to young children about managing online risks and actively mediate their use.
The researchers also recommended that parents should set reasonable rules and guidelines for computer use by their children. “Discuss these rules and post them near the computer as a reminder; remember to monitor your children’s compliance with these rules, especially when it comes to the amount of time your children spend on the computer. A child’s excessive use of online services or the Internet, especially late at night, may be a clue that there is a potential problem,” they stated.