File photo: The study surveyed 38 000 children in 29 countries. Picture: Nokuthula Mbatha/ANA

Cape Town - Nearly 20 percent of South African children between 8 and 12 have engaged in online sexual behaviours.

This after a recent study by the World Economic Forum reported that DQ Institute said South African children were among the most vulnerable for cyber-risks in the world, placing South Africa in the top 10 most at-risk countries out of the 29 countries polled.

Dr Robyn Whittaker, the Stakeholder Engagement Lead at Symphonia for SA said the phenomenon was seen in digitally emerging countries like South Africa.

“The countries that haven’t had long digital access, without being prepared for it are at high risk. This is what we seeing in South Africa now. There is a parent population that is not familiar (with this) and children who are aware of what happens and what can be done in the digital space.”

She added they had been attempting to equip school leadership of under resourced schools with the necessary skills and resources to address the social, administrative and academic challenges they faced every day.

“For many of these schools, the risk of cyber-bullying and of 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.”

The study surveyed 38 000 children in 29 countries with the help of organisations such as Symphonia and 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 “64 percent of children who have been exposed to one or more cyber risks, 55 percent were victims of cyber-bullying and 11 percent have chatted with and then met online strangers in person. The study also found that 18 percent of children have engaged in online sexual behaviours, which includes having sexual conversations with strangers and/or searching, downloading, or distributing sexual content online".

Microsoft’s Digital Civility Index, which measures consumers’ lifetime exposure to online risks, said South Africa was more at risk than other global internet users of having online encounters of the uncivilised kind.

Chief marketing and operations officer at Microsoft South Africa, Kethan Parbhoo said through the latest technology trends like analytics, they were able to track all kinds of internet behaviour.

“For all of us to reap the benefits of living in a digital culture, civil society and the business community must educate the next generation and enable them to become more civil while online or offline, and ultimately help make the larger South African society a more civil one,” he said.

Cape Argus