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Sharp rise in reports of child abuse over internet

Childnet International aims to promote the use of the internet while recognising its risks.

Childnet International aims to promote the use of the internet while recognising its risks.

Between January and September, 115 reports of child abuse over the internet were submitted to the Appogg Hotline service.

This represents an average of 12.8 per month, marking a "drastic" increase over the two per month between October and December last year, the agency said.

Out of the 115 reports this year, 29 were forwarded to the police Cyber Crime Unit.

Foundation for Social Welfare Services CEO Joe Gerada said the increase in the number of reports on child pornography and malicious contact to the Appogg hotline, accessed through www.appogg.gov.mt, was a direct result of the impact of the efforts, spearheaded by the IT Ministry, to raise awareness. In fact, statistics from a recent survey by the IT Ministry, conducted to assess PC penetration in homes and awareness of child safety on the internet, revealed "interesting and surprising" findings to this effect, IT Minister Austin Gatt said yesterday.

Of the 62 per cent of respondents who had a PC at home, 78 per cent had children aged under 16 and 52 per cent were aware of the need for child internet safety. Even more interesting to Dr Gatt was that, of these, 78 per cent, 42 per cent were aware of the existence of child internet safety programmes and 60 per cent knew they were run by Appogg.

Of the respondents, 53 per cent talked to their children about internet safety while 41 per cent were satisfied with the work being done in schools.

Dr Gatt said the aim was not to steer children away from the internet but to keep it safe and inform them what to do when it was no longer safe.

In keeping with the government's strategy to be the foremost EU country in terms of e-government, Dr Gatt said that, within the next four to five years, the idea of internet labs at school would be completely dropped and every single classroom would be "e-enabled" instead.

This meant that points of access would grow and that, consequently, so would the need to raise awareness of internet safety, ensuring that parents and teachers were geared to handle it.

Dr Gatt was speaking yesterday at the renewal of the IT Ministry's collaboration and signing of a second, improved agreement with Childnet International, the UK non-profit-making organisation, for the safe and positive use of the net.

Childnet International supports, encourages and equips teachers to help children understand how to use the internet, adopting a positive approach to technology, its CEO Stephen Carrick-Davies said.

Technology is neutral, but imposes enormous challenges, he maintained.

Mobile phones have become children's entire worlds; they are growing up "digitally". Internet on mobile phones meant it is away from supervision and accountability.

Among the initiatives of Childnet International are internet safety kits for pupils, internet safety presentations, safer internet resources for teachers, train the trainer programmes and a competition for Internet Safety Day in February. Practical resources and advice for parents and teachers are also offered.

A one-day conference was held at the Mediterranean Conference Centre in Valletta yesterday for 200 teachers on E-Safety - A Whole Community Approach.

Appogg is a full member of Inhope, a network of international hotlines. It has also reapplied for funding to the European Commission for more teacher training and to consolidate its hotline service.

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