Protection of Children’s Rights to Privacy and Freedom from Online Exploitation and Abuse in Southern Africa. A Case Study of South Africa and Zimbabwe
Sibanda, Opal Masocha
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In the past few years there has been an increase in the number of children using the internet. The COVID-19 pandemic has further contributed to the increase in internet usage by children due to the measures taken by governments to contain and curb the virus, including the closure of schools. Families and children have resorted to digital solutions to support children’s education, interaction and play. Although not universal, the internet presents various opportunities that enable children to enjoy their rights. African countries including South Africa and Zimbabwe have embraced the use of internet based technologies which has created opportunities for cybercriminals to perpetuate violence against children. As such, whilst acknowledging the benefits of the internet, it should also be noted that the internet presents threats to children’s rights, the most critical being threats to privacy and freedom from exploitation and abuse. Due to their age, children do not appreciate the threats presented by the internet and thus remain vulnerable internet users. Various instruments exist at international and regional level on the protection of children’s rights and these instruments also apply in the digital context. A number of laws have been enacted in South Africa and Zimbabwe on the protection of children’s rights. It is however not doubted that the existing legislation and traditional governmental bodies set up to protect children from probable harm are challenged by technological advancements such as the internet. This research establishes that the legal framework of South Africa and Zimbabwe does not adequately protect children’s rights to privacy and freedom from online exploitation and abuse. Although South Africa has made notable progress in enacting laws on the protection of children’s rights online, the laws are not comprehensive. Zimbabwe on the other hand is lagging behind in terms of amending its legislation to incorporate aspects of online violence. With weak legislation, protection of children’s rights to privacy and freedom from online exploitation and abuse becomes problematic, hence the need for law reform. The research draws best practices from the legal regimes of the European Union and the United States of America to inform law reform. The research gives recommendations to the government of South Africa and Zimbabwe, businesses and internet service providers, as well as parents and guardians on the protection of children’s rights online.