Safeguarding children online: Lessons Kenya can learn from the UK’s OFCOM in the digital age

  • 9 May 2024
  • 3 Mins Read
  • 〜 by Brian Otieno

The internet is a mixed bag; on one hand, it has revolutionised communication and access to information, but it has also opened doors to a new set of challenges, particularly for children.  Ensuring child online safety is a pressing concern for governments around the world, and Kenya is no exception.

As the country continues to embrace digital technologies, it can learn valuable lessons from established regulatory frameworks like the UK’s Office of Communications (OFCOM). This article delves into the current approaches taken by both Kenya and the UK in safeguarding children online, identifies areas for improvement in Kenya, and explores the implications for tech companies in this critical conversation.

The Kenyan landscape: Balancing growth with protection

Kenya boasts one of the highest internet penetration rates in Africa, with over 85% of the population connected. This rapid digital growth presents immense opportunities for education, entrepreneurship, and social connection. However, it also creates vulnerabilities for children exposed to online risks like cyberbullying, grooming, and access to inappropriate content.

The government has taken some initial steps towards child online safety. The Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) has published guidelines on content classification and parental controls. Additionally, the Child Online Protection Act (2009) criminalises the production and distribution of child sexual abuse content. However, enforcement remains a challenge, and the act itself is largely outdated and does not respond to concerns from emerging technologies.

The UK’s Office of Communications (OFCOM): Potential framework for consideration

Established in 2002, OFCOM is the UK’s regulatory body for the communications sector. It plays a pivotal role in safeguarding children online through a multi-pronged approach:

  • Industry codes: OFCOM works with major internet service providers (ISPs) and social media platforms to develop codes of practice. These codes outline clear expectations regarding content moderation, age verification, and reporting mechanisms for child sexual abuse content.
  •  Licensing and enforcement: OFCOM has the power to licence and sanction ISPs that fail to comply with the codes of practice. This ensures accountability and incentivises companies to prioritise child safety.
  • Education and awareness: OFCOM actively promotes digital literacy campaigns aimed at children, parents, and educators. These campaigns provide crucial information on identifying online risks and using the internet safely.

Areas for Improvement in Kenya

While Kenya has taken initial steps, there’s significant room for improvement in its approach to child online safety. Here are some key areas to consider:

  • Strengthening the legal framework: The existing Child Online Protection Act needs a comprehensive review to address contemporary online threats. The law should be more specific regarding harmful content, cyberbullying, and data privacy for children.
  • Enhancing regulatory capacity: The CA requires additional resources and expertise to effectively enforce regulations and hold tech companies accountable.
  • Collaboration with international bodies like the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) can provide valuable knowledge and best practices.
  • Promoting Digital Literacy: It is crucial to equip children, parents, and educators with digital literacy skills. Educational campaigns should address topics like online etiquette, critical thinking, and responsible social media use.

The role of tech companies: Balancing innovation with responsibility

The conversation on child online safety goes beyond governments and regulators. Tech companies have a significant role to play in creating a safer online environment. Here’s how they can contribute:

  • Developing robust content moderation systems: Companies should invest in advanced content moderation tools and human oversight to identify and remove harmful content promptly.
  • Implementing age verification measures: Effective age verification systems can help restrict access to age-inappropriate content and protect younger users.
  • Prioritising transparency and accountability: Tech companies should be transparent about their content moderation policies and data collection practices. Regular reporting on child safety measures builds trust with users.
  • Investing in safety by design: Integrating child safety features into the design and development of platforms can significantly reduce risks from the outset.

Conclusion: A collective effort for a safer digital future

Ensuring child online safety is a complex challenge that requires a collaborative effort from governments, regulators, tech companies, civil society organisations, and parents. By learning from established frameworks like OFCOM’s, Kenya can develop a more comprehensive approach to online child protection. 

Tech companies must embrace their responsibility as stakeholders in this critical conversation. By prioritising child safety through robust safeguards and transparent practices, they can help create a digital world where children can explore, learn, and connect safely. Ultimately, a collective commitment to child online safety is essential to ensure a brighter digital future for generations to come.