SA kids among the most vulnerable for cyber-risks

The study found that aside from the high number of children who have been exposed to one or more cyber risks, the majority were victims of cyber bullying and some have even chatted with strangers and met them online in person. Photo: Pixabay. For illustrative purposes.

South African children aged between eight and 12 are among the most vulnerable for cyber-risks in the world, said a recent study conducted by the World Economic Forum’s DQ Institute.

The study, which was undertaken in South Africa in partnership with the social enterprise Symphonia for South Africa and its programme Partners for Possibility, found that 62 per cent of children in that age range have been exposed to at least one cyber risk. This places South Africa in the Top 10 most at-risk countries out of the 29 countries polled.

The DQ Institute is a Not-for-Profit think-tank that was established as a coalition of organisations and corporations at the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. They are tasked with establishing the risk levels of children in the relevant age-range, with the assumption that this is the age at which most children become active users of the Internet.

The study polled 38 000 children in 29 countries with the help of organisations such as Symphonia. It measured children’s risk levels for exposure to cyber-misdeeds such as online bullying, grooming (where an adult ‘grooms’ a child over the Internet for future sexual abuse), the sharing of sexual content with and among children, and video game addiction.

The study found that aside from the high number (64 per cent) of children who have been exposed to one or more cyber risks, 55 per cent were victims of cyber bullying and 11 per cent have chatted with strangers and then met them online in person. The study also found that 18 per cent of children have engaged in online sexual behaviour, which includes having sexual conversations with strangers and/or searching, downloading, or distributing sexual content online.

Dr Robyn Whittaker, the Stakeholder Engagement Lead at Symphonia for SA said the following: “Our focus has been to equip the school leadership of under-resourced schools with the necessary skills and resources to address the social, administrative and academic challenges they face every day.

“For many of these schools, the risk of cyber-bullying and online sexual abuse is but one of the many challenges they face. Others include dealing with child-headed households, abuse of all kinds, and gangsterism.”

Symphonia for SA launched PfP in 2010 as a programme to partner school principals of under-resourced schools with business leaders in a year-long programme of leadership development and support. These partnerships then work together to address the many and often unique challenges that these schools face and for which the school principals are often ill-prepared and ill-equipped. Once a sound base of management and teacher cooperation is established, the programme creates fertile ground for other programmes, such as that of the DQ Institute, to flourish.

According to Dr Yuhyun Park, the founder of the DQ Institute, the “risky pair” of social media and mobile phone use among young children has placed millions of children at risk of cyber misdeeds from cyber bullies and sexual predators.

The DQ Institute has found that children from developing countries, especially countries with emerging IT sectors and widespread cellphone use, are most at risk and hence most in need of support.

Dr Whittaker said, “Children in under-resourced schools, of which there are approximately 20 000 in South Africa, are vulnerable to all types of physical and digital abuse. It is every South African citizen’s responsibility to help keep our children safe, through direct intervention, education through programmes such as that of the DQ Institute and through partnership programmes such as Partners for Possibility.”

For more information on the DQ Institute’s 2018 report, please visit For more information on the Symphonia and PfP, please visit

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Clinton Botha

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