14 April 2018

Kenya: Lewd Teenagers' Photos On Social Media Point to Fraying Social Fabric - Experts

Photo: Nairobi News
Teens posing explicitly.

When lewd photos of teenagers surfaced online on Thursday, apparently to "shame" the culprits and "expose" them to their parents, the safety pin of a moral storm was removed.

For hours, Twitter -- a popular social media site -- was awash with photographs of young boys and girls, mostly taken in Nairobi streets, posing suggestively. Using #IfikieWazazi, social media users condemned the obscene scenes that, to some, appeared to be the symptom of a bigger moral problem.

Kenyans were divided on the ethical, moral and legal red lines of exposing the subjects online, as some people faulted the purveyors of the online debate, saying that such an approach was counterproductive.

EXPLETIVES

There also seemed to be consensus that the country's moral compass was spinning out of control.

Experts, who spoke to the Sunday Nation, argue that discussing the country's state of morality using a hashtag between parents and their children with expletives flying around exposes fundamental failures of the Kenyan society and a chink in our social fabric.

Psychologist Martin Muthusi says parents are supposed to lay the blueprint of their children's behaviour, yet ironically, this is precisely where the society is losing the plot.

"Who can children look up to when parents parade themselves naked on Facebook groups? If you seek parenting tips on social media on how to rein in your errant children, you are fighting a losing the battle," says Mr Muthusi, a psychologist.

TRAGIC

He warns that when parents engage in inappropriate behaviour online and in real life, children always take note. But even more tragic, he says, the youngsters are left without someone upright to emulate.

On most social media groups, particularly on Facebook, befuddled parents lament about their headstrong teenagers, bemoaning a decline in their social values.

"These discussions always get chocked when unconcerned members introduce other playful debates. This way, the important discussions lose relevance and wither as members hop onto other 'juicier' matters," says Mr Muthusi, advising parents to seek professional counselling services for their children.

Yet these concerns are not the only things that modern parents are sharing online. Some seek advice on how to make extra money after work.

Some teenagers complain that their guardians don't have time for them, complaints that most parents acknowledge but with an excuse - they are working hard to offer the children a better life and return home too tired. Others spend the night out drinking or dancing the day's frustrations away. While doing all this, their kids are watching and making mental notes.

HOLLOW CAMPAIGN

In this quest to provide, the expert says, some parents have lost their children to immorality. Some no longer know what their children are up to and even when they do, they don't know how to handle it "because most (children) have devised ways to outsmart adults".

Whereas such an exposé on social media would ordinarily attract remorse, some teenagers did not take it lying down. Instead of cowering away in regret, some of the teenagers hit back viciously.

From their bedrooms and without a shred of decency, the youngsters filmed slanderous videos, ridiculing what morality the adults were talking about, while punching holes into what they termed "a hollow keyboard campaign".

Taking photos and filming videos in sensual positions, they argued, is a personal choice. They went on to say that their parents, churches and elders who the campaign sought to inform of their improper conduct could do nothing about the matter.

ACCESS ONLINE

The Kenyan Twitter space became the stage for a tragi-comedy of the absurd with attacks and counter-attacks -- generating more heat than light.

Many may have dismissed these exchanges as ordinary online banter that would peter out with time, as such topics are wont to do.

Yet the debate revealed nerve-chilling attitudes towards morality among some Kenyans, raising pertinent moral questions: who do young people look up to as role models? Are there controls on what content children can access online?

Recent incidents provide worrying examples. Last month, five boys from St Mary's Kibabii High School were found hiding in the dormitory of the neighbouring Cardinal Otunga Girls High School in Bungoma County, which was then on strike. The five were wearing the girls' uniform and were drunk.

CRIME

Back to the #IfikieWazazi debate. By taking indecent photos of underage teens, the photographers in question committed a crime punishable by law, according to multiple legal experts interviewed for this article.

Section 15 of the Children's Act guarantees the right to protection from sexual exploitation in such ways as use in prostitution, inducement or coercion to engage in any sexual activity, and exposure to obscene materials.

While taking such lewd photos was disgraceful, publishing them online, for whatever reason, was also contravention of Section 19 of the Children's Act, which guarantees the right to privacy for every Kenyan child. It exposed them to shame, and escalated the already shameful incident.

Additionally, Article 31 of the constitution states: "Every person has the right to privacy, which includes the right not to have ... information relating to their family or private affairs unnecessarily required or revealed."

CONTENT

The Kenya Film and Classification Board (KFCB) says it is pursuing a national conversation on moral issues in a bid to impact the content that is being aired by mainstream media, both offline and online, according to Dr Ezekiel Mutua, the Chief Executive Officer.

"Celebrity culture being glorified has set the wrong role models for our youth. The media has to begin to inspire hope in the youth through the content that they disseminate. Content influences and shapes behaviour in the society," says Dr Mutua.

Parents have left their parenting obligations to television sets and househelps, he adds.

RELUCTANCE

"Some parents get back home as high as a kite, hurling obscenities and creating fights in the full glare of their children. We have failed to set the right examples for our children," says Dr Mutua, adding that change must start at the household level with parents or guardians inculcating strong family values.

#IfikieWazazi, he says, should be a wakeup call for the media to redefine success and set the stage for conversations on the national values of hard work.

Lydia Ngwiri, a teacher and counselling psychologist at Kiambu High School, says that parental education is needed right from churches, mosques, schools, welfare groups and resident associations.

Experts argue that Kenya's reluctance to completely ban indecent media content is partly to blame for the moral depravity witnessed here

RAUNCHY

A few weeks ago, Tanzania banned 13 local songs. Two of Tanzanian superstar Diamond Platinumz songs, Hallelujah and Waka Waka were on the blacklist, with the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) announcing that the decision was on grounds that they were against the country's norms and values.

This was not the first time the Tanzanian government has cracked the whip on songs and videos deemed too raunchy for the public. In 2016, the Zigo remix, a song by Tanzanian artistes Diamond Platinumz and AY was blacklisted due to offensive erotic scenes.

"We are a naked nation. We glorify 'my dress my choice' and erotic music videos. We have to go back to the basics," says Mrs Ngwiri.

Reports by James Kahongeh, Millicent Mwololo, Pauline Ongaji and Lilys Njeru

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