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Child exploitation in Kuwait
December 15, 2018, 5:25 pm

The 70th anniversary of Human Rights Day was marked worldwide on 10 December. Despite the passage of seven decades, it is deeply shameful that human rights of many children continue to be flagrantly violated around the world. In several countries, children are still sold as chattel, bonded as slaves, denied schooling, forced into labor or to beg on the streets for a living. Much of these forms of child exploitation can be attributed to the poverty and deprivation that prevail in these countries. In most of these cases, parents send their child out on the street not willingly, but out of necessity. When forced to decide between starving or begging, the choice can be stark.

While economic hardships are behind most child exploitations in poor countries, the same cannot be said of Kuwait — one of wealthiest countries where per-capita income is among the highest in the world. And yet, inconceivable as it might seem, instances of parents or exploiting their children for lucrative profit have in recent days come to light in Kuwait.

Last week, law enforcement authorities in the country summoned more than a dozen parents after they were found to be exploiting their children for financial gains. The parents were accused of promoting their children as models endorsing dresses and other accessories on social media platforms in return for revenue.

Department of juvenile affairs said they had so far discovered 30 social media accounts that posted clips of children and after investigation it was found that 18 of them violated existing rules and regulations related to Child Protection Law in Kuwait. The summoned guardians have been given a week’s time to end this egregious exploitation, and warned that in case they did not comply with the law they would be referred to the relevant courts on charges of child exploitation and could face prison-terms of up to seven years.

The low financial cost, ease of operation, reduced risk and high profitability, along with an ignorance of the negative psychological, physical and developmental impact on children, could explain the proliferation of this form of online child exploitation. All it takes for this enterprise to get rolling, is a child model, a mobile camera, internet connection and social media marketing.

Many online viewers of these sites are not aware they are contributing to this exploitation by adding their comments or ‘likes’ to these images. Incidentally, the popularity of these child models, measured by metrics such as ‘likes’ and followers’, are in most cases purchased by the parents or guardians for a fee from online vendors. The relative ease of this operation and ability to quickly gain hundreds of thousands of online followers or likes, encourages others to try and emulate this ‘success-story’.

In many cases, family members who promote their children online tend to justify their actions by asserting that it is not doing any harm to the child, and that there is no direct contact between the child and viewers. This response can at best be termed naïve, probably arising from the ignorance of the power and pervasiveness of the internet, or the permanency of images once uploaded online.

Modern technology allows criminals to easily download and distort the images of children and use it for any number of appalling purposes online. The anonymity of the internet along with the ability to easily move images and videos across borders and jurisdictions to exploit legal loopholes existing elsewhere, means it is often difficult for law enforcement officials to track and prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes.

Children are the most vulnerable members of society, as a parent or relative it is our responsibility to protect them. We need to be aware of, and responsible for, our actions and the images we upload on the internet. If you are ignorant of the potential repercussions from uploading the image of your child online, then you should not be doing it. Abusing the innocence of children for personal gratification or financial gain is a crime in most countries and Kuwait is no exception.

It is especially shocking and beyond belief that this form of child exploitation should happen in Kuwait, a country that prides itself on its family values. One wonders what those self-proclaimed ‘moral guardians of society’, who brand any kind of social entertainment, parties and celebrations as a danger to the culture and family-values of Kuwait, have to say about this atrocious exploitation of children right under their eyes.

The Public Prosecutor’s office in Kuwait responded swiftly to this phenomenon by issuing a new set of guidelines to protect children aged 13 and less from the potential dangers associated with social media. The new guidelines, drafted by the country’s Supreme National Committee for Child Protection in cooperation with Department of Juvenile Affairs states, among others, that no child below the age of 13 is allowed to set up an account on social media or to interact with other accounts.

The guidelines point out that while ‘positive’ publicity from promoting social services, or building positive characteristics are permissible, the exploitation of children through advertisements and promotion campaigns for financial gains on social media are strictly prohibited.

Clarifying that child images and advertisements violate public morals, principles and values, the new guidelines ban images and videos of children promoting clothes and accessories, putting on makeup, dancing or uttering obscene words. The guidelines also prohibit the posting of images or videos of children naked, in their underwear or taking baths or showers. In addition, any news that constitutes an invasion of the privacy or an intrusion into the personal lives of children should not be published.

The guidelines add that children should not be subjected to mental abuse through any work or action that undermines their dignity or humiliates them, such as publishing funny, sarcastic and embarrassing pictures; ridiculing or making fun of children; or posting pictures or clips that offend them religiously, ethically, morally or socially.

However, while legislative and prosecution-based approaches to this problem are important, they are unlikely to be adequate. A more multi-faceted approach involving all stakeholders is needed if we are to address this kind of child exploitation. Children, parents, teachers and community members, along with psychosomatic health specialists, media and law enforcement officials, all have to come together and lend their support to this endeavor. They need to combine resources, enhance cooperation and communication, increase awareness and improve monitoring efforts to effectively tackle this commercial exploitation of our children.



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