The Cybercrime Unit of the Ghana Police Service has raised concerns over the growing number of Ghanaian children, especially girls under 16 years, falling prey to persistent online bullying and attacks because of their vulnerability.
"Each day we receive cases reported by parents or by victims of sexual exploitations online and even stark pornography...it is very serious, very alarming," Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) John Aduko said.
Some victims eventually committed suicide because of offences such as stealing, extortion, fake information, false news, information theft, and hacking as well as unlawful interference with digital gadgets such as mobile phones.
ASP Aduko, who is the Deputy Director, Cybercrime Unit, was speaking in an interview with the Ghana News Agency on the sidelines of the celebration of this year's International Day of the Girl Child at Akuapem Mampong in the Eastern Region.
Plan International Ghana organised the cybersecurity programme as part of activities marking the UN day with the Mampong Demonstration School for the Deaf on the theme: "Girls get Equal Freedom Online: Freedom from Cyber Bullying."
It is aimed at promoting digital learning schools and boosting the confidence of girls as well as ensuring their safety, security and protection online.
Research shows that the most used social media platform in Ghana, as of the third quarter of 2020, had WhatsApp topping with 83.9 per cent, followed by Facebook 70 per cent, YouTube 69.7 per cent, Instagram 56.3 per cent and Facebook messenger 47.6 per cent.
Telegram was 40.8 per cent, Snapchat 37.2 per cent, Twitter 36.2 per cent, Tiktok 34.0 per cent, Pinterest 16.1 per cent, google hangouts 12.7 per cent, LinkedIn 11.6 per cent, and skype 9.7 per cent.
ASP Aduko said criminals used WhatsApp to deceive their victims, especially young girls, starting with Facebook to make a friend request and eventually move their prey onto WhatsApp to perpetuate their illegal acts.
He said the criminals would engage their victims nicely and in due course exploit their sexual images that were then used to blackmail victims, who later suffered psychological disorders and committed suicide.
"We have a lot of these victims, some of them keep it to themselves, and others try to commit suicide. Most suicides we hear about our little ones are because of these activities," he added.
Aside teenage girls, ASP Adoku said many adults and professionals including celebrities, police, military, journalists, parliamentarians, teachers, ministers, bankers and nurses were also targets for the climbing cyberattacks.
He said Ghana had a robust legal framework to protect children's rights, but harmonised efforts involving parents, teachers and all other stakeholders were needed to reinforce it.
Mr Adoku advised the public against accepting a friend request from unknown persons on Facebook as criminals or occult groups use that to recruit unsuspecting victims.
He called for investment in efforts to help teenagers, particularly girls, to appreciate the advantages and disadvantages of using the internet and staying safe on it, rather than banning students from using handsets.
"We can't do away with the internet and computers and mobile phones, we need to educate our children more about the good aspect," he said.
"It is when they inculcate the positives in them that we can then tell them how the negative aspect can affect their lives."
Mrs Gifty Ashun, the Akuapem-Mampong North Municipal Girl Child Education Officer of the Ghana Education Service, blamed the rising teenage pregnancies on an uncontrolled monitoring mechanism for girls.
She urged parents and guardians to monitor their teenage girls closely online to help them benefit from the rich information to improve their lives.
Highlighting social media importance during the COVID-19 lockdown, she said education materials or information were shared on the platforms, and instead asked that electricity and computers or digital equipment be provided to schools.
Mr Benjamin Akuamoah Boateng, Team Lead, Eastern Location, Plan Ghana, said school children needed digital gadgets and the internet for learning activities and should not be deterred from getting information online.
He said the internet contained a lot of good information but there were equally "a lot of misinformation and disinformation" but that should not deny girls from using it to improve their learning.
He expressed the commitment of Plan International Ghana to support digital learning, particularly among girls, in the country.
International Day of the Girl Child is celebrated on October 11, each year, a day declared by the United Nations to raise awareness of gender inequality facing girls.
This inequality includes areas such as access to education, nutrition, legal rights, medical care, and protection from discrimination, violence against women and forced child marriage.