Children as young as nine years old are involving themselves in a trend known as 'sexting' which has spread through South African schools like a plague. Fuelled by sexuality in the media, advertising and in films, experts warn that this threat is growing rapidly. 'Sexting' is the sending of sexually explicit photographs or messages via mobile phone and many don't realise the implications of doing so. These images often depict individuals who are under the age of 18 and it is illegal to capture, store and share these images, which the law classes as child pornography.
While technological advances may have provided the framework for such activities, this sort of behaviour is usually a direct result of a lack of parental supervision and guidance. Children are given powerful electronic devices and no advice on how to use them responsibly and safely.
Needy and neglected children see such activities as an avenue for finding acceptance or alternatively, for gaining control over others. These young people then become either victims or perpetrators as 'sexting' often results in blackmail, psychological and even physical abuse. Sexual predators often groom and lure victims via online chatrooms and social networking sites.
Specialists have dealt with cases where up to 200 pupils in a single school had been sending or receiving images of themselves and classmates naked, and this is by no means an isolated case. In another incident, pictures of 20 young men from a certain school in Johannesburg were posted on Twitter by an individual who created a fake account to do so.
Expert Danny Myburgh warns that "The pictures being taken, sent and received are disturbing, increasingly violent and incredibly explicit." Images distributed include pornographic pictures downloaded from the internet, 'selfies' (an individual takes a picture of themselves using the camera on their cell phone) and images of children who photograph each other in compromising sexual positions.
Radio reached 50 million people in 38 years, television in 13, the internet in four years and Facebook in three. Cell phone apps take just 50 days to reach 50 million people and there have been cases where a few pictures that a teenage girl shared with her boyfriend have been posted online and viewed worldwide. In some cases this resulted in the victim committing suicide.
Netsmartz.org has published the following statistics:
• 93% of teenagers go online
• 75% have cell phones
• Teens send and receive an average 1500 text messages a month
• A third of teenagers experience online harassment
• 4% of cell phone-owning teens say they have sent nude/semi-nude pictures and 15% say they have received sexually suggestive images of someone they know
They also have the following advice for parents
• Monitor your children's behaviour
• Know who they are in contact with and what apps they are using
• Get up to date with cell phones and apps
• Empower your children with a strong sense of their rights with regards to potential abuse