National Association of Attorneys General
Cybercrimes Involving Children
Sergio Castro Guevara, Chihuahua Attorney General�s Office, Mexico; Jayantha Jayasuriya, Additional Solicitor General, Sri Lanka; Andrew Kobe, Indiana Attorney General�s Office; Didi-Nuraza Latiff, Brunei Attorney General�s Office; and James Lee, Rhode Island Attorney General�s Office
The Internet is an inescapable part of modern life, presenting implications for children as both victims and offenders of cybercrime. Ninety-three percent of teens aged 12 to 17 are online on a regular basis. Although a child may be alone in a room with a computer, as soon as he or she accesses the Internet, the child is no longer alone. What is private becomes public. He or she is followed, often without the benefit of adult supervision or a full realization of surrounding danger.
The Responsibility of Adults in Guiding Children�s Internet Usage
Given the importance of the Internet in everyday life and its advantages in a child�s development, neither the government nor the adults in the household should create absolute barriers between children and the Internet. However, they can develop and enhance the trust between parents and children and educators and children. It is a parent�s responsibility to foster awareness of potential online dangers and nurture a continuing dialogue on safe Internet use. Children should be encouraged to report strange or obscene website links or unwanted contact by unknown individuals.
Educating Parents and Children is Key
Educating children is an important first step in keeping them safe on the Internet. The training should keep their attention, while educating them on potential online dangers. It should discuss the ability of individuals to hide their true identity on the Internet and the ability of predators to elicit personal information. Further, children should understand the permanency of a posting on the Internet. Compromising photos they may send or post may be available on the Internet indefinitely, along with possible repugnant comments directed at friends or school staff. Once a child�s personal information has been compromised, the result may be a problematic credit history built by an identity thief. Exposure of sensitive information to a friend on a social networking site may result in the release of private information to the public at large. Revealing personal information on the Internet, especially physical location, may result in an unwanted and potentially dangerous physical encounter.
Parents and educators should also receive education on the risks to children and the steps parents should take to ensure their children are using the Internet safely. Government should continue to encourage parents to install parental controls and alerts on the laptops, computers and mobile phones their children use. In this way, children would be blocked from accessing websites with inappropriate content as well as websites frequented by sexual predators.
Role of the Government
Government entities play an important role in protecting children online. One potential action could be requiring verification of age to access websites identified as unsuitable for children younger than age 18. Verification of age could be done through provision of a credit card only available to those 18 years of age or older. Government entities could also impose strict liability for those websites.
Further, government entities could, as some already have, ban registered and/or known sex offenders from accessing the Internet -- in particular, websites frequented by children, such as social networks. Governments could also increase penal consequences for sexual offenders who use the Internet as a tool in committing crimes against children.
The Internet is undeniably a tool providing multiple benefits as well as dangers to children. Governments, educators and parents should continue to work together to educate children and provide an environment in which they may use the Internet responsibly and safely.