The use of internet and technology experienced an exponential growth in Somalia, with more than 2 million Internet users and the cheapest Internet in Africa. Young people who make up over 75 percent of Somali population use the Internet more than ever before and some begin to accessing the Internet in the early years prior to starting school. The onset of COVID-19 pandemic and closure of schools as part of the measures imposed to contain the spread of the pandemic has exacerbated the use of the Internet by the young people. Some Internet Providers eased the cost of Internet for students during COVID-19, which also boosted the affordability. Many education institutions have migrated to online classes to enable learning to continue while COVID-19 preventive measures are still in place, and this puts many young people to rely on the Internet more than before.
Despite of using Internet for attending virtual classrooms, video calling, online gaming and social media, it is also a source of entertainment for young people living in a country where the vital recreational sectors are unlimited. The Internet also offers an opportunity for talented youth members share their talents with their peers which is a great way of overlooking painful feelings or troubling life situations in the country.
While more young people make their way into the Internet, many parents feel uncertain about the actions and experiences their teenage children have on the Internet, thus causing worry and concern. Therefore, this article looks at why parents worry in relation to their teenagers’ extended use of the Internet and also presents the relevant recommendations that can be peace of mind for parents in order to maintain the country’s growing digital transformation.
Data collected by Bareedo Platform’s Digital Help Desk in 2020 shows that 89 percent of the parents in Somalia are worried about their teenagers’ extended use of Internet and in particular, they believe that this given a rise to safety concerns, loss of appetite to education and miss out of real life experiences. These are well founded by similar concerns continuously raised by the schools, authorities and the religious figures. For instance, the Governor of Banadir region who is also the mayor of Mogadishu, the capital city of Somalia, blamed teenager’s addictive use of TikTok for their mass failure of national examinations for the school year of 2019/2020 in remarks he made at a graduation ceremony on September 7, 2020.
What risks do young people face in the Internet?
More than seven in 10 Somalis own a mobile phone and mobile Internet is popular among youth in Somalia, taking advantage of the cheap Internet. Young people spend too much time on Internet with less knowledge of the dangers they may face and how to deal them accordingly. For this reason, they usually come across negative online experiences including, but are not limited to, exposure to material with pornographic or violent content, and subjection to online threats and bullying. It is a very common to the young people to over-share their personal information which brings immediate risks of sexual grooming and stalking, in particular among young women. Digital Help Desk recorded a total of 141 cases of young women groomed online in 2020. This is a data recorded from Puntland state only, and data throughout Somalia could be alarming. In some instances, young men face a risk of radicalisation and recruitment for illegal activities by the terrorist groups fighting in the country.
Parents worry girls more than boys
Data recorded by Digital Help Desk indicates that 90 percent of the parents worry girls more than boys. In some instances, they even link their concern to the growing offline sexual violence against women and girls in Somalia. While the boys and girls are supposed to use Internet equally, there is a pandemic of online gender-based violence turning the lifeline of the internet into a hostile space for women and girls in Somalia, according to a small survey conducted by Bareedo Platform in February 2020 which found that 49 percent of young women attending educational institutions face constant harassment in the online platforms due to their extended use of internet for educational purposes. The surveyed young women said that they continually face online harassments of blackmailing, non-consensual access and distribution of personal information, impersonation, defamation, sexist abuse, intimidation, hacking of personal account, recording without consent, identity theft, sexual harassment or cyber stalking.
Munasar Maxamed, a prominent Somali journalist living in exile in Sweden unveiled organized online gangs who build up a trusting and emotional relationship with young women in Mogadishu for purpose of sexual exploitation, gratification or abuse.
As a result of schools being closed, young women spent more time online than usual and sadly, victims of online abuse were prevailing throughout 2020. The most popular case was a video showing the private parts of a young woman named “Cayuuni” posted and distributed in the social media without her consent in July 2020 that sparked heating discussions among Somalis in the social media platforms.
While the gender-based violence against women and girls are prevalent in Somalia, these live examples clearly show how they are not even spared in the Internet.
Why are these prevalent in Somalia?
The awareness rising about the secure and safe use of the Internet is not common in Somalia and young people are not taught in schools and at home. For this reason, they may not always think about the consequences of their actions while they are online, which exposes them into negative online experiences. Furthermore, parents’ own Internet skills, experience of using the Internet, and attitudes toward the Internet are what raising their worries and concerns. Data found 66 percent of the parents to have limited Internet skills and believe negative attitudes toward the Internet. The parents who have experience of using the Internet even said they do not have time to monitor what their teens are going every single second they are online.
Young people do not often speak about their online experiences and additionally, online violence is not perceived as a serious form of violence compared to offline violence and problems that are common in the country. These are also what mainly contributed in the worry of parents and push many of them to keep their teenage children, in particular girls and young women, out of Internet connection and use of mobile phones as a form of punishment or reduce risk of harm online.
What can be peace of mind for parents?
The Internet is an excellent educational and recreational resource for children and young people. They need the Internet to research information for school projects or attending online classes more than before in these days. For this reason, parents need to learn everything they can about the Internet, so they can understand the benefits of the Internet and make informed decisions when it comes their teenagers’ use of the Internet. Furthermore, there are plenty of resources and tools available globally, which can give guidelines and best practices for parents to keep their teens safe online. On top of that, parents also need to talk to their teenagers about their Internet use, teach them about online dangers to make sure they have time for other valuable activities.
Schools need to include digital safety lessons and awareness rising in their teaching programs to educate children and young people on the risks they may encounter when using the Internet and how they can deal with them. The education authorities, schools and other relevant stakeholders need to work on digitalization of education and teaching system, taking advantage of the growing Internet connectivity and technological developments in Somalia.
The Learning Passport, a digital remote learning platform lunched by UNICEF and the Government of Puntland in Somalia in July 2020 in Garowe to enable children access educational content both online and offline from their homes is a noticeable step forward that can be extended to whole Somalia.
Translation of the existing Internet safety resources in Somali language is indispensable that can help a lot for public and parents who find difficult to use such resources due to language barrier. Finally and on top of that, the government, tech companies and other relevant stakeholders need to cooperate to promote Internet and contribute to the development of a safe and empowering online environment for young people.