Internet cafe ban planned for children

Proposed federal ban aims to protect children from exploitation.

Young boys surf the web at an internet cafe in Abu Dhabi.
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DUBAI // Children under 18 would be banned from internet cafes under a plan by child-protection officers.

The proposal is being studied by the Social Affairs Minister, Mariam Al Roumi, the ministry's child department director Moza Al Shoomi said yesterday.

The proposed federal ban is aimed at protecting children from exploitation, Mrs Al Shoomi said. "We need to protect our children, especially young girls, from any abuse. These internet cafes are a danger zone."

Mrs Al Shoomi was speaking at the launch of a two-month awareness campaign by Dubai Police aimed at getting parents to educate their children about potential dangers on the internet.

Maj Gen Khamis Al Mazeina, deputy head of Dubai Police, said banning children from internet cafes would be futile. "Our children have access to the internet everywhere - it is not confined to internet cafes," he said.

"Awareness and education are the core in protecting our children from the dangers that come along with the internet," he said.

Strict measures to monitor such cafes were already in place in Dubai, Gen Al Mazeina said. Police enforced rules that prohibited the cafes from having tinted windows or from having barriers between desks. Officers also closely monitored internet use at the cafes.

"The computer is becoming an integral part of any student's life," he said. "To ban children from any new technology is old school. Teaching children how to say no to anything immoral and illegal is the real protection. The campaign on the danger of internet use among children is important."

A survey by Dubai Police of 134 intermediate and secondary level pupils found that children spent more than two hours a day surfing the internet. Search engines and social media were among the most frequently visited websites.

Gen Al Maziena said very few internet-related crimes were registered in Dubai but the campaign was intended as a precautionary measure.

"We know that child exploitation online occurs worldwide and that electronic crimes are one of the fastest moving crimes, therefore we need to have precautionary measures in places rather than wait for when problems occur," he said.

Reniat Saeed, a social worker at a Dubai school, said banning children from internet cafes would not have its intended effect.

"Internet cafes are not the only source for the internet. Children will still have access to the internet through their mobiles and laptops," she said. "Teenagers need special education in this regard, you cannot follow them everywhere. You need to educate them of the danger and create a deterrent inside them."

A member of the Higher Committee for the Protection of Children, Major Faisal Al Shamari, warned last year that incidents of children taking indecent pictures and posting them online were on the increase.

The new awareness campaign begins on Wednesday. Parents will be urged to monitor their children's online activities, and there will be seminars for parents, teachers and children in schools and at government entities.