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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 17 July 2018

UAE society formed to shield youths from terrorist influence online

Protecting children from the reach of terrorist organisations is a central aim of the new foundation for children's safety online launched today in the emirate
Hisham bin Tammam, speaks of how he ensures his children are safe when playing video games online. Ravindranath K / The National
Hisham bin Tammam, speaks of how he ensures his children are safe when playing video games online. Ravindranath K / The National

ABU DHABI // A group of Emiratis and expatriates have joined to launch a foundation to protect children from online risks including terrorist groups.

Emirates Safer Internet Society, a non-profit organisation, will urge people to use the internet responsibly and shield children from online risks.

Mohamed Saidalavi, the chief executive of the foundation, said yesterday that protecting children from radicalisation was “new and sensitive”.

“The situation is very critical and we don’t understand it completely,” said Mr Saidalavi, an Indian father of four and web systems developer.

“We need to collaborate with organisations and authorities ministries on this.”

Mr Saidalavi warned parents not to be underestimate the power of the internet.

“Parents need to understand what their child is doing and they should give the child the open space to discuss things,” he said.

“If you are defensive towards your children, they will hide things. This applies to grooming for terrorist purposes or for sexual intent. You need to be your child’s friend.”

The organisation will start with an educational drive to help authorities, parents and children understand how terrorist organisations spread their propaganda online.

“Once or twice a year parents will be brought to schools and we will empower the teacher to train them and handle any situation with the help of authorities,” said Mr Saidalavi.

Meera Al Mansoori, vice chairwoman of the society, believed terrorists were increasingly targeting younger children.

“Extremists really don’t go to recruit people above the age of 20,” said Ms Al Mansoori, an Emirati government employee. “Now they are targeting 9, 10 and 11 year olds.

“They’re going to go to the online gaming centres and grooming them from there. They abuse the way our values and religion are presented.

“They want to pick and brainwash our children. It’s scary thinking that one of our children may be affected.”

The society will work with organisations such as the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, Abu Dhabi Education Council and police to achieve its goals.

It plans to organise education drives and improve research and development.

It will also build a reporting system using international hotlines to help the Ministry of Interior receive and process reports of online crimes against children.

Dr Najla Al Naqbi, society board member and eLearning programme manager at Adec, said schools must play an important part in protecting children from online risks.

Those risks can be as diverse as terror organisations, cyber bullies, online paedophiles and scammers.

“At Adec we have some components in our social studies curriculum on how to use the internet in a good way, and we need other groups to support us with training and content,” Dr Al Naqbi said.

“We need to teach children what to do in case they face an abnormal situation when they are playing online.”

Hesham bin Tammam from Yemen said his children, aged 7, 10 and 15, were often approached by strangers when playing online games.

“If someone new adds them online the first question I encourage them to ask themselves is who they are,” Mr bin Tammam said. “If you can’t identify that person the level of trust must be very low.”

arizvi2@thenational.ae