The sexual exploitation of children through online platforms is a significant problem in South Africa.
This is according to the national commander of the SAPS Serial and Electronic Investigation unit, Colonel Celeste van der Klashorst.
Van der Klashorst was speaking on Wednesday during a panel discussion on mitigating and raising awareness about sexual exploitation of children in South Africa through online platforms.
The webinar was hosted by the Government Communication and Information System in partnership with the Film and Publications Board.
The panel included chief of Child Protection at Unicef South Africa Makiba Yamano, Mosaic executive director advocate Tarisai Mchuchu-MacMillan and VizStrat Solutions CEO Jacqueline Fick.
During the discussion, Van der Klashorst said based on her experience, the issue was huge in the country because South Africans were not taking responsibility for the online safety of their children.
She said with the enactment of the Cybercrime Act, child pornography crimes had been extended extensively beyond possession, distribution and manufacturing of child pornography to include transmitting, selling, procuring, downloading, accessing and making child pornography available.
“You might be on an adult pornography site. A little pop-up comes on, you click it, it’s child pornography.
You’ve accessed it. You download it, it’s an additional crime,” she said, adding that the facilitation of child pornography, whether a person was holding the camera or recruiting, was now a crime.
Another crime which had been added in the amendment of the act, according to Van der Klashorst, was attending a live show.
“We’ve had instances where children are trafficked and then predators are invited to a live show to come and see others abuse these children,” she said.
She said if a person attended, viewed, recruited a child or even bought a ticket, they would be guilty of an offence.
Van der Klashorst said that during the past six months there had been more predators facilitating financial transactions for child pornography.
She recalled a recent arrest in the Western Cape where the FBI contacted them after they discovered that a mother was live-streaming herself and her four-year-old child.
“She would put her child out there or herself out there and say ‘anybody for anything make an offer’. The perpetrator would then ask the mother to do X, Y and Z and the mother would say please pay me let’s say $300. The minute the transaction is completed, she would fulfil his request,” said Van der Klashorst, adding that five other siblings, who were also victims, were rescued.
Van der Klashorst said they had worked on many similar operations.
“I want to also mention that sexual holidays are also very rife. You can book if you know the platforms and like minded people, there’s child sexual trafficking to exotic destinations where you would actually go for a holiday to be able to go and abuse children,” she said.
Yamano said they conducted a study last year that was representative across South Africa which revealed that among the 1 639 internet-using children aged between nine and 17 who participated in the survey, more than half of the children went online once a month, once a day, or even more regularly.
“The study shows that of the surveyed children, 33% of them said they have met someone in person whom they had first met online, which is quite shocking. And also 8% of the respondents said they have shared naked pictures or videos of themselves online,” she said.
She said 61% of the parents said they did not monitor their children’s online activity.
Fick said one of the aspects that made South Africa’s legislation unique was that Section 16 of the Cyber Crimes Act made provisions for both real and simulated images with regard to the distribution of intimate images without permission from the other party.
“The implementation and putting this wonderful piece of legislation to work is not a one man job and this is where not only different law-enforcement agencies and NGOs but the real meaning of public private partnerships comes to light,” she said.
Mchuchu-MacMillan said all levels of the system including schools, parents, guardians and churches needed to understand the laws and what it actually meant to expose children to harm.
“Its not that the consequences is jail or law enforcement. The consequences is real trauma that can affect this child beyond what we can actually see ourselves,” she said.
She said some of the consequences were depression, self harm, suicide, poor school outcomes, delinquent behaviour, risky sexual behaviour, substance abuse and increased aggression.