Islamic Voice A Monthly English Magazine

SHAWWAL 1424 H
December 2003
Volume 16-12 No : 204
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DANGER ZONES AT CYBERCAFES

Danger Zones at Cybercafes

The cyber culture that is spreading fast has its own drawbacks and dangers. Islamic Voice conducted a random survey and found out that none of the cyber cafes were using any kind of blocking or filtering software

By M. Hanif Lakdawala

Many Muslim parents are apprehensive allowing their daughters to visit cyber cafés for the research purpose. But many do permit having faith in their children and guiding and communicating about its pitfalls. But there are parents who are oblivious about the cyber cafes and its culture. Cyber cafes have proved to be a good starting point for many, as people who visit them get the opportunity to learn while at the same time, have first hand experience of operating a computer. Mumbai boasts of a variety of cyber cafes. In Mumbai, these cyber cafes, also known as Net cafes, has been the stimulus to India's amazing Net growth. Offering services at cheap prices, cyber cafes have opened the doors of the cyber world to anyone who wants to avail the opportunity. Ironically, the cyber culture that is spreading fast has its own drawbacks and dangers. Islamic Voice conducted a random survey and found out that none of the cyber cafes were using any kind of blocking or filtering software. Simply put, cafes often have a laid-back attitude towards whatever the patrons want to do online. It is called privacy. Exploring the history cache of the computer to see where the previous users have been roaming, it gives wealth of information about the net usage.


The finding of the survey has some startling revelations: #Total respondents 158
#A 12-year-old boy surfs the pornographic site for 90 minutes!
#Majority of the net users chat exclusively or simultaneously while doing their office or college assignment.
#Around 35% of the surfers visit pornographic sites.
#Out of 19 children monitored in the survey, 8 children i.e. 42% did watch the porno sites.
#A visit to the computer labs of four colleges revealed that quite a few students were simultaneously chatting while doing their practicals.
#As compared to 18% of the women chatting with more than one online person, 47% f the men chat with more than one person.

How do children get hooked to the porno sites? Internet parlours in residential areas around town lure children with their favourite games. Once children get used to the cyber culture, they graduate to porno sites. Many a times its curiosity but quite often its peer pressure which exposes them to the porno sites.

Parents need to learn and be forewarned. There are many sites hosted in the West to this end. Websites such as www.safekids.com, www.cyberangels.org, www.icra.org, www.chatdanger.com, www.bbc.co.uk/webwise, www.getnetwise.org are a few. Except http://netsafety.nic.in and www.indianchild.com, there is precious little by way of such information on Indian websites. Unlike in the West, there are no web-based help lines, forums and support groups.

In spite of precautions at home, Internet cafes could help children breach the guidelines. Measures have been suggested by the police in the city recently to restrict and monitor usage of the Net by children at browsing centres. Steps suggested are that children be always accompanied by an adult, they be not allowed to use closed cubicles and that filtering software be made mandatory. Today, children explore, play, learn, communicate and race ahead on the Information Highway, leaving their parents far behind and unmindful of the pitfalls on the Web. On the other hand, in cafes where workstations are visible to each other, one meets people using the facility meaningfully: students working on their study assignments, girls using search engines, a computer literate mother helping her young daughter to open an e-mail account, a silver surfer firing off e-mail replies typing with one finger and a foreigner making online transactions back home.

"Lack of computer proficiency, defined purpose of Internet usage, lesser knowledge of English language and need for healthy and creative pursuits leave some of the users roaming around in chat rooms, pornographic or other unproductive sites rather than tapping the true potential that lies in the meaningful use of the rich resource called the Internet," says sociologist M Kasad. " It is these users - mostly the youth fraternity - that define the character and unhealthy milieu found in some cafés," he said. The survey also revealed that apart from surfing for explicit nudity, some users bring their own CDs and watch them in the privacy of cafes, uninterrupted and unquestioned. Serious users and the female Net fraternity are reluctant to avail the Web services at such places.

Internet users go to cyber cafes and spend time and money as much as they can afford. Even those who have Net connection at home, go to cafes. "Those young people from affluent families who have Net connections at home come here for obvious reasons: at home they cannot chat and surf that long and the way they want to," said Abbas Baig one of the respondent who runs a cyber café in Bandra.

Shahida Khan, who counsels children and parents, says parents and kids should decide together what they are supposed to do in the cyber cafe, and for how long, and then make sure kids stick with that. Internet cafes are really a very useful facility, one that we perhaps cannot do without. So many people who cannot afford computers and modems at home depend on them in whatever they happen to be pursuing in life. But how they should be run is what one wishes to see changed. The Internet, beyond chatting, porn and or fun surfing, can be a great leveller for any one. Thus onus is on the parents to support, guide and communicate them about the uses and potential dangers of misuses.

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