Facebook, an open sesame for child molesters ?
by Omar RAJARATHNAM
There has been a sharp increase in child molestations the world over to ascertain what it was like in the city, the Sunday Observer interviewed a cross section of youngsters and met a girl who was willing to recount her bitter experience about her childhood. Her identity has been withheld.
This now grown up girl said that she was fond of her paternal uncle (Ravi) because he regaled her with amusing anecdates. "He narrated jokes and I used to sit and laugh out loud until one day he attempted to touch me. I felt like the doors of joy just closed on me for eternity. Those funny moments I shared were taken over by inexplicable confusion, a feeling that she still finds difficult to come to terms with after the six- year-long molestation which ended nearly eight years ago.
Aged 24 now the girl is working for a reputed organisation, but was shocked beyond words recently to see her uncle having a "Facebook" profile that had a list of friends who were not familiar to many family members, a situation which she thinks can make many other young girls fall prey to his tactics." I do not want another innocent child to fall victim to this man. These children will not talk to their parents about the trauma they have undergone because of the simple reason of confronting an adult.
Facts are stubborn says, Chairperson of the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA), Anoma Dissanayake as they have evidence that almost 92 percent of reported molestation cases are where a known relative is the culprit, a figure that is extremely high. Children are not willing to talk about it to their parents because it is considered taboo."We are in the habit of disregarding what children say, I call upon all parents to ask their children to bring it to the notice of any other adult so that appropriate measures can be taken. This could be an uncle, aunty, cousin, neighbour or grandparents. No one should touch a child in a manner which makes them physically or virtually uncomfortable through inappropriate cyber activity" she said.
Facebook or other social networking sites such as Hi5, Twitter and dating websites does not have a method of verifying the age of subscribers and local technology is not equipped to provide sufficient parental control methods either, if the facility to control is ever introduced, there is enough software available for downloading on the internet to unlock the restriction.
Even a six-year-old child can enter a manipulated date of birth and have access to the site impersonating someone else. A paedophile can follow the same method to have access to a child too. A fake profile can be set within a matter of seconds and the first friend request he sends your child can be the foundation to the destruction of their childhood. "Why can't parents be more vigilant" asks Anoma,"If parents are not responsible of what they are up to on the internet then who is"? she queries.
All parents must be applauded for working hard to provide their children with a good education and any facilities they may like to have as a child, but can they justify compromising the child's sexual safety to provide all the luxuries that are expected when a child is small?
"I am a mother of three children, I know the difficulty in striking a balance between a job and family life, but no excuse can be given for negligence on the part of parents. As parents it is our duty to ensure and provide children sufficient security. Most children know that they will be uninterrupted from 7-9pm because mothers are busy watching television serials. This is the time children can get up to anything on the internet. This way they are being a given guaranteed two hours to satisfy their curiosities. Keep the desktop in the house in the most prominent and public place, why should children be alone opposite a computer. If they are not up to mischief they can always surf the net or do whatever they want in the presence of other elders. There is nothing wrong in parents being curious about their child for their own safety," says Anoma.
Popular shopping malls in Colombo are very popular for strange meetings too, many opt to meet in these airconditioned malls these days instead of Galle Face or any other open park. The public toilets in these malls only have Janitors who charge shoppers before they enter them but the Sunday Observer learns that these cubicles are now being used for sexual activity by offeing a bribe of a mere Rs 20, making it a convenient location for child molesters to misuse children that they meet on social networking sites or otherwise. There are thousands of children who meet in these places and the lack of vigilance means that they too run the risk of being subject to some type of molestation. The situation is dangerous but the NCPA is not unaware of the extent of the damage it has caused and no official complaints have been made", Anoma Dissanayake said.
"Since our 24-hour-child line 1929, was set up on July 22, 2010, we have received 26,929 calls up to February 28, 2011 of which we lodged 3,694 complaints and action was taken against the perpetrators. I call upon the public to be extra vigilant too, although parents must be held accountable for their children, it is our social responsibility to safeguard all children, make use of our help line and we will do all in our power to stop these acts" she said.
Although an authority could take action against a fugitive as a reactive measure, we certainly need to focus on having proactive strategies to fight child molestation too. Be it cyber molestation or physical molestation, the time taken from the authorities being informed to them reporting to the scene, is ample for the culprit to finish his task. The offender might be taken to Court or convicted, but a lost childhood means irreparable damage to adulthood.