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Opinion: Social media a gateway for child grooming and sexual abuse online


Sometimes parents do not even realise that their children are on social media. Picture: Lerato Molale

By Lerato Molale

With children returning from the festive season and schools having reopened for the new year many children will have access to the boundless worldwide web for school obligations and entertainment, but are you and your children informed about the dangers of sexual grooming and exploitation online?


Gender-based violence is an act of violence that can be inflicted in more than one way. Children having unsupervised online usage can make them victims of gender-based violence through their screens.


Sexual grooming is outlined in South Africa’s constitution under section 18 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offense and Related Matters) Amendment Act, 32 of 2007. It is described as a criminal offence in which a person introduces or prepares a child to perform or witness a sexual act or participate in one. Children are usually unaware of the grooming because the perpetrator is nice to them or builds a relationship of trust.


I recently asked a number of parents and guardians (10 to be precise), a few questions to understand how they view their children’s online social media usage. Although the parents were aware of the age restrictions offered on social media platforms, they did not apply them on their children’s social media accounts or inform their children about them.


63.6% of the parents acknowledged that their child had a social media account but, 54.5% stated that they did not have access to their child's social media account. One of the participants Malindy (surname withheld to protect the child), a mother of two shared that her youngest daughter aged 11 created a TikTok account for herself on the emergency cellphone she was given. Malindy only became aware of the account when a colleague shared a video with her on WhatsApp praising her daughter's choreography for a popular song.


"I didn’t even realize she had an account, and she had over 50 videos uploaded and 230 followers. I worried about who all those people were, how many of them were adults, and if any of them had sent her direct messages.”


Some children can create accounts for themselves and evade age restriction questioning.

Instagram, TikTok and YouTube all have social media features that offer child restrictions. YouTube has YouTube Kids, a version of the app which is curated solely for children. This version screens the content the child has access to including commenting.

The Commission for Gender Equality is an institution working to contribute to strengthening and deepening constitutional democracy in South Africa, through the protection, promotion, development and attainment of gender equality. In an article titled, “Child Grooming Wave on the Rise in South Africa” written by Sandile Useni, “sexual grooming has been increased by allowing minor children to access social media platforms easily”.


With technology becoming more accessible to many households and a medium used in schools. This emphasizes the importance of parents utilizing app restrictions and being aware of online dangers for children, with children developing social relationships online.

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