UAE: How 12-yr-old girl’s online abuse trauma pushed her to drop out of school

Text messages, social media posts, chatroom messages, altered images, and videos are just a few avenues through which cyberbullying can occur


Nandini Sircar

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Published: Wed 24 Apr 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Wed 24 Apr 2024, 10:16 PM

Years after dropping out of school, a 12-year-old girl persists in her journey of rehabilitation, wrestling with the consequences of cyberbullying.

During the inaugural day of the Gulf Information Security Expo & Conference (GISEC), Dr Mohamed Al-Kuwaiti, Head of Cybersecurity, UAE Government recalled the challenges faced by a young girl who suffered emotional scars from online abuse.

He said, “A young girl, deeply immersed in multiple social networks, found herself targeted by cyberbullying and she subsequently had to leave school.”

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The expert stressed that cyberbullying poses a significant concern, impacting not only the young targets but also their families, and those who witness these instances. ”This negatively impacted not only her life but the life of her family and society as a whole. She went into rehabilitation, with efforts being made to bring her back into school. Until today, she refuses to go back to school because of what she's been through.”

Dr Mohamed Al-Kuwaiti
Dr Mohamed Al-Kuwaiti

Al-Kuwaiti highlighted that cyberbullying can have the most harmful impact on the victim, leading to various emotional challenges that can disrupt their social life, academic progress, and most importantly overall mental well-being.

Children's behavioural changes

Meanwhile, Brig. Saeed AlHajri, Director of the Cybercrime Dept, Dubai Police UAE said that schools and parents must try and gauge the true impact of cyberbullying.

He stressed the need to identify any shifts in a child's behaviour stemming from cyberbullying and to offer supportive assistance to the child.

Speaking to Khaleej Times on the sidelines of the event, AlHajri said, “Look at the effect of artificial intelligence (AI) and technology today. It has a severe impact on the youth, as well as on society. There is a critical role of parents and schools to address these problems, and come up with a mitigation plan to counter the social impact. I see children these days, chatting with AI the entire day. This is obviously impacting them mentally and psychologically. That means these children lead a second life and have actually developed a relationship with technology.”

He added, “We don’t want our children to communicate with criminals. Now technology is not a criminal. However, there is data available that shows that these technologies sometimes also propagate certain types of ideologies. Not all technology is bad. There is a positive and negative side to it. We must amplify the good parts and warn against the bad side to combat the negative impacts.”

Experts reiterated cyberbullying is not confined to school hours or physical boundaries. The digital realm allows it to persist at any time and in various forms, making it particularly insidious.

Text messages, social media posts, chatroom messages, altered images, and videos are just a few avenues through which cyberbullying can occur.

Phishing attack on a bank

Recounting another instance about a phishing attack on a bank, Al-Kuwaiti said, “Let me tell you a story involving cyber ransomware within the financial sector. One of the banks that weren’t following some of the standardisations, compliance measures, and a risk-based approach to governance that we have consistently emphasized fell victim to cyber ransomware attacks.”

He added that it took almost three hours for the bank to understand what was happening. “The only thing that helped them was an old backup that prevented them from losing all data. They obviously had to seek external help. Our team then had to investigate and address the challenges. We’ve helped several entities during different ransomware attacks. So, the moral is that we are all in it together as we face the global cyber threat. We have a common cause, working together to save critical infrastructures and we must do it together.”


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