Safety of children in the online environment: Important issues and legal responses in Nigeria

  • 07 Pages
  • Published On: 30-05-2024

1. Introduction

This research concerns the issues of safety that are involved where children are exposed to online environments and how these issues are responded to in by the legal system. The research is specific to Nigeria, which means that the focus of the research will be on the issues that are specifically linked to security of children in online environments and how Nigerian laws respond to these issues. This is a critical research, which will not only focus on the description of the current laws of Nigeria, but will also critically analyse these laws to locate gaps in the law and suggest reforms for responding to these gaps. As part of the analytical support will come from considering how other jurisdictions may have responded to the same issues, the research will necessarily involve a comparative legal research angle. However, this comparative analysis is done only for the purpose of informing reform. For the greater part, the research will be focussed on Nigerian laws, for which the research will take a doctrinal research methods approach.


The jurisdictions selected for comparative legal analysis include USA and UK because of the evolved nature of the laws in these two countries, which may provide some useful tips for responding to any gaps noted in the Nigerian laws.

2. Statement of problem

Internet, exposure to online environments and access to Social Media can have both negative and positive impacts on children and teenagers (Wheeler, 2003). With Internet becoming ubiquitous, and access to phones and computer devices becoming easier for children and teenagers, there is an exposure of children to the negative effects of Internet, some of which have implications for the safety of children. The issue of children’s use of Internet and Social Media is made more complex by the changing dynamics between parents and children, with the latter having more say in the choices that they make with respect to their leisure time and entertainment. This social concept has been termed as ‘democratisation of family relations’ (Livingstone, 2007).

Democratisation has implications for the law and how legal responses are to be made as well. With parents having lesser control on how their children access and navigate online environments, it may become more necessary for legal responses to be made keeping in mind that parental control may not be the most appropriate way for securing children safety in online environments. Children now have access to mobile phones and computers as well as Social Media, and due to privatisation of leisure and the democratisation of the family, there is lesser control or supervision by the parents (Livingstone, 2007). It is also noteworthy that there is personalisation of media which means that instead of parents and children having communal media usage (such as, through television), there is increase in children using individual media devices and appropriating sources of media (Livingstone, 2007; Ochs & Kemer-Sadlik, 2013). The social changes discussed above have implications for the safety of the children and in order to ensure that children are safer in online environments, legal responses are needed so as to provide legal and regulatory framework.

3. Objectives

The objectives of this research are as follows:

  1. To explore the risks that are faced by children in online environments;
  2. To identify and assess the principal issues related to safety of children in online environments;
  3. To evaluate the legal responses in Nigeria that are specifically aimed at safety of children in online environments;
  4. To suggest measures for improving the laws in Nigeria with respect to safety of children on online environments.

4. Research questions(s)

The overarching research question in this research is:

What are the principal issues involved in safety of children in online environments and how does Nigerian law respond to these issues?

There are some sub-research questions that are related to the above:

  1. What are the issues that are central to children safety in online environments?
  2. What are the risks faced by children in their access of navigation of online environments?
  3. What are the laws in Nigeria in response to the risks faced by children in online environments? Are there any gaps in these laws?
  4. What are the measures that can be implemented in Nigerian laws to respond to the issues of children safety in online environments?

5. Significance of study

The study is significant because the issue of children safety in online environments has gained significance in recent times. There are social changes in the Nigerian society with respect to exposure of children to Internet and Social Media, with there being an increase in the exposure over time. These changes raise the risks that children are exposed to due to the use of Internet and Social Media. It is important that laws are used to respond to these risks. As this study is a socio-legal study, there is attention to social as well as legal issues and responses, with a greater focus on the latter. Moreover, this study will be useful because it aims to suggest changes to the Nigerian law based on the comparative analysis with USA and the UK. Therefore, there is a scope for suggesting reform measures to the law.

6. Theoretical approach

7. Preliminary literature review

The increase in use of Social Media, and new media raises important questions with respect to children safety in online environments, as there is research that indicates that there is a greater exposure of children to Social Media and there are different impacts of such exposure on the children (Livingstone, et al., 2017). Of particular significance is the use of Social Media by children under 15 years, as for children who are older, there is more autonomy with respect to the choices they make with regard to entertainment (Livingstone, 2007).

Literature indicates a number of risks that are attached with the exposure of children to online environments. One of the risks is that of cyberbullying, to which young children and teenagers may be exposed in their use of social media (DeHue, et al., 2008). Cyber bullying can also be linked to the privatisation of media and the non-involvement of parents in online activities of their children, which means that parents are oftentimes unaware of the risks that their children are facing in the online environments (DeHue, et al., 2008).

Another risk that children and teenagers may be exposed to through their use of Internet and Social Media is that of constructing sexual relationships at a younger age (Bond, 2010). The use of virtual space for developing relationships, and the relative anonymity that comes with the virtual space, makes it possible for children and teenagers to use this space for the purpose of constructing sexual relations, as noted by one author:

“The young people’s use of space – virtual space – afforded by the mobile phone in their developing sexual and romantic relationships, just as ‘behind-the-bike-shed’ facilitated such explorative, albeit often fumbling, adventures into young people’s developing relationships previously” (Bond, 2010, p. 587).

Yet another risk that can be faced by children in online environments is that of trolling. Trolling involves use of aggressive and abusive language so as to cause psychological injury to the victims in an online environment and the incidence of trolling is increased due to the ubiquitous nature of social media and the access to Facebook and Twitter (Rafferty, 2011).

While there are risks to children in online environments, there is at times lack of proper supervision because children may interact with strangers without parental mediation for online activities (Wheeler, 2003). In order to respond to this gap in the protection of children, countries around the world are responding by making laws on cyberbullying and other risks that are faced by children in online environments (O'Keeffe & Clarke-Pearson, 2011). An example can be seen in Canada, where specific law on cyberbullying of children has been enacted. The Cyber-Safety Act 2013 was enacted with specific provisions on extortion, sexual assault, slander, libel, pornography, and cyberbullying.

In the UK as well, there are efforts being made by the government to tackle the issue of children security in online environments. For instance, in 2017, the UK government’s Home Office and the Department for Education, the Department of Health, and the Ministry of Justice have begun to conceptualise a new Internet Safety Strategy for the purpose of providing security to children in online environments (BBC News, 2017). These steps were taken after polls showed that parents were greatly concerned about children sexting as well as research showing that a significant number of children posted topless pictures of themselves online and several children reported to cyber bullying in an online environment (BBC News, 2017).

Research methodology

As this research involves research on an issue and a legal response to the same, this research will use a doctrinal research method, which allows the researcher to explore the law in a particular area (Dobinson & Johns, 2007). Also involved will be law reform research method, which concerns studying the law with the aim of proposing responses and reforms to the law which can respond to the gaps in the law, if any (Dobinson & Johns, 2007).

Doctrinal method means that the researcher will use ‘black-letter’ law, that is, law that is provided in legislation, authorities decided by the courts and regulations laid down by the state (Hutchison, 2017). This research will study both statutes and court judgments (Dobinson & Johns, 2007). Doctrinal research is interpretative, and this is advantageous for the critical appraisal of the current laws (McConville & Chui, 2007). The doctrinal research methodology is a qualitative method of research, which means that instead of formulating a hypothesis the researcher can formulate research questions that this research seeks to answer (Dobinson & Johns, 2007). Using both primary and secondary sources, this research will study the legal responses of Nigeria to the issues related to safety of children in online environments. Primary sources are legislations and authorities decided by the courts and may also include any policies and regulations made by the state and secondary sources include books, journals and commentaries (Dobinson & Johns, 2007). This research will also involve comparative research method. Comparative law research involves the comparison of laws in two or more different jurisdictions (Gutteridge, 2015).

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  • BBC News, 2017. Government launches major new drive on internet safety. [Online] Available at:
  • Bond, E., 2010. The mobile phone = bike shed? Children, sex and mobile phones. New media & society , 13(4), p. 587–604.
  • DeHue, F., Bolman, C. & Völlink, T., 2008. Cyberbullying: Youngsters' experiences and parental perception. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 11(2), pp. 217-223.
  • Dobinson, I. & Johns, J., 2007. Qualitative Legal Research. In: M. McConville, ed. Research Methods for Law . Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
  • Gutteridge, H. C., 2015. Comparative law: an introduction to the comparative method of legal study and research. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press .
  • Hutchison, T., 2017. Doctrinal Research: researching the jury. In: D. Watkins & M. Burton, eds. Research Methods in Law. Oxon: Routledge.
  • Livingstone, S., 2007. From family television to bedroom culture: Young people’s media at home. In: E. Devereux, ed. Media studies: Key issues and debates. London: SAGE, pp. 302-321.
  • Livingstone, S. et al., 2017. Maximizing Opportunities and Minimizing Risks for Children Online: The Role of Digital Skills in Emerging Strategies of Parental Mediation. Journal of Communication.
  • McConville, M. & Chui, W. H., 2007. Introduction and Overview. In: M. McConville, ed. Research Methods for Law . Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
  • Ochs, E. & Kemer-Sadlik, T., 2013. Fast-forward family: Home, work, and relationships in middle-class America. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • O'Keeffe, G. & Clarke-Pearson, K., 2011. Clinical Report - The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families. Journal of American Academy of Paediatricians, s.l.: s.n. Rafferty, R. S., 2011. Motivations Behind Cyber Bullying and Online Aggression: Cyber Sanctions, Dominance, and Trolling Online, s.l.: PhD diss., Ohio University.
  • Wheeler, D., 2003. The Internet and Youth Subculture in Kuwait. Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, 8(1).

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