Sunday, Aug 11, 2002
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By Hasan Suroor
Parents who believe that it is best to leave the child alone with the computer while they entertain friends downstairs have been warned that they are putting their kid to potential risk.
It has been established that every one in five children who have unfettered access to the Internet visit a chat room and, one in 10 go on to have a `real' meeting with someone they have met on the Net often with disastrous consequences.
The alarming rise in `online' child abuse in Britain has been dramatised this week by the sudden disappearance of two schoolgirls in Cambridgeshire minutes after they had been on the computer together.
Ten-year-olds Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman disappeared last Sunday after they left Wells' home together apparently to meet someone they had been `chatting' with on the Net. After trawling through Holly's computer, police appear to be convinced that the girls are the latest victims of sex perverts, lurking in the chat rooms.
Their disappearance has prompted one of the biggest police investigations in recent memory and hastened government plans to bring in a law to protect child users of Internet.
Parents have been advised to be with the children while they use computer.
"Bring the computer to the living room where parent can keep an eye on what the child is doing on the Net,'' said a childcare expert.
The case has jolted Britain where almost every family has a computer and children are routinely "logged on''.
A new term, "online grooming'', has been coined by experts to define the phenomenon of Net child abuse. It starts with a paedophile going into a children's chat room claiming to be a child himself and pretending to share their interests. Gradually, he gains their confidence and then `lures' them to a meeting as seems to have happened with the two missing girls.
In the past two years, nearly a dozen men are reported to have been sentenced for sexually assaulting children whom they met on the `Net'.
Many more cases may have gone unreported, and some suspects got away for lack of sufficient evidence.
One woman, who insisted on accompanying her teenaged daughter to a "net date'' expecting to meet a 15-year-old boy, was shocked that the person turned out to be a 50-year-old man.
"Obviously he had bad intentions and if I was not there anything might have happened,'' she said.
Companies running chat sites have been criticised for not taking enough care to protect children beyond the routine advise that they should not disclose personal details or carry on `conversation' with someone they don't feel comfortable with.
The Holly-Jessica case will add to the pressure on parents as it comes on the heels of the disappearance of 13-year-old Amanda Dowler.
She disappeared in March on her way back home from school, again raising the suspicion that she might have been a victim of a `Net' crime.
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