India, second most populous country in the world with a total population of approximately 137 Crores based on Worldometer elaboration of the latest United Nations data. It has highest share of young adults nearly more than 50% of the population are below the age of 25 years and more than 65% are below the age of 35 years and also has a highest cases in the child sexual abuse. As per the report of Cyber Tipline, USA’s National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s (NCMEC) centralized reporting system, India was also on the verge of reported cases of child sexual exploitation with a total of 11.7% followed by Pakistan, Iraq, Indonesia and other countries in the year 2019. This is only the reported cases, there is lot of exploitation, harm, injury happens at every minute in the world, which are not reported because of the family reputation in the society they belong, being threatened of aftermath if the cases are registered or many reasons. So, the significant question which needs to be focused upon where is this country which constitutes a large portion of younger generation is heading, are they safe, are they surfing on the internet what they should, what needs to be done, what are its preventive mechanisms, etc.
For this, we need to understand what determines the child and why such abuse is considered as one the heinous acts. The report of ‘World Health Organization’ defines child is a person 19 years or younger unless any amendments in laws defines adult at an earlier age. In India, with the enactment of Protection of Child from Sexual Offences (POCSO) act defines any who belong to the age group of 18 or below than that will be considered as child and implemented in order to deal with child sexual abuse. Apart from such legislation, it is imperative to take some actions, to think from different perspectives to reduce the increasing rate of such abuse, put it to an end and seek out the roots, ways which lead to child exploitation. And one of the factors is social media, internet, various websites which are being used by millions of child all over the world and many among them being trapped, being misled with inappropriate contents and some misuse the online sites. It is inevitable in the current incident of “Bois Locker Room” where some boys with age of 16–17 years made fake account on Instagram and allegedly posted photos of minor girls and shamelessly commented on their photos. When some girls tried to reveal and talk about it with the same platform, they had been threatened with inappropriate comments, to unveil their nudes, etc. And, it is very common in our Indian culture, there is always a prevalence of suppression of voices who wants to talk, share what they have been through either with threatening messages, calls, attacks on families members and most of the time family do not bolster them to come out in public.
Online Child Sexual Abuse
Child sexual abuse is something which involves enticing or forcing a child to get involved in any sexual activity, despite of child knows or not what is happening. If child is being forced to watch sexual images or something which provoke them to behave in an inappropriate ways, or grooming them in preparation for abuse, all indicates a symptom of sexual abuse. Child at this age are very vulnerable to such mishaps, and this in reality put them into trauma, depression, anxiety, sleeping disorders, nightmares and sometimes suicidal thoughts and it take years for them to dismantle the pillar of its consequences and might be they spend their whole life with such fears.
Like India, many other countries have been following up and ordering for lockdown due to Corona pandemic. This period is really very crucial for the child because their schools are closed, no meeting even with their colony friends because of social distancing, they are only left with using some online sources, like online games, watching movies, Instagram, Facebook, etc. This lockdown period is actually a matter of great concern, where using internet can be helpful for them to learn, play and strengthen connectivity with others but at the same time they are putting themselves more close to online abuse. Online sexual abuse is a kind of sexual abuse that happens on the internet like on any social media, emails, online chats, text messages, online gaming, live- streaming sites, etc. It involves any online coercion or blackmail, emotionally abuse, cyber bullying, online grooming, production, possession and sharing of any indecent images of children or prohibited images of children. It has been showing only a disturbing trend, might be because of advancement in technologies, more and more social sites are open with less safety mechanisms. With the recent report of Crime Investigation Department in last quarter of 2019, they have registered a total of 63 cases of online child sexual abuse in Karnataka, which ultimately turns out in concerning about the total cases in India in last quarter. And it was found in most cases that abusers are often known to the child. And, it is evident that 95% of the cases of child sexual abuse are done by relatives, or any close ones to the family. In 2019, Cyber Tipline also reported that facebook alone constituted 94% of the total case of online material of sexually abusing child and many government sent a letter to facebook not to introduce any end to end encryption on its messaging platforms, also there has been 53% increased in the number of photos and videos for sexually exploiting child in 2019 as compared to 2018. In the same year, India’s National Crime Record Bureau has signed MoU with NCMEC which permits NCRB to access all the reports concerned with pornography and child sexual abuse, which are only accessible to NCMEC.
Another question which we need to illuminate is there are laws and ages determined for child labour, child marriage. So, the ages required to be defined for internet users? For other countries, user needs to be attained the age of 13. But in India, legislation states that someone below 18 years is prohibited to use any social media. But, this is not the case in reality, many children who are even at the age of 13-14 made fake accounts with age of 22- 24 years to join various social networking sites because such sites lacking in proper identification of a person, lacks in safety mechanisms. Children are very inquisitive; they always eagerly do the work that stops them from doing. And this is the problem, where children hides a lot of stuffs from parent because they scare if they share with them, either their parents will shut off the internet or restrict them from using any network.
Here, the number of problems associated with the use of online sources have been discussed, cases which are reported with authenticated organizations have been shown, so we need to understand what we should do from our side to prevent all the child who are at the risk of any online abuse, what could be the right method to spread awareness among child, their parents to protect their child from such abuse.
Due to lockdown, even the international rights and law advocacy said that high speed data and more accessible to smart- phones has increasingly made child more vulnerable to online sexual abuse. The International justice Mission (IJM) has also put forward concerns and suggested parental Vigilance against sexual online predators and stalkers who may entice their children to attempt crime through social media platforms. Parents should be stern and keenly observe their children while they are online, what are they doing and how much timings dedicating to internet.
- Especially to those parents, who are in job or an entrepreneur, getting more time to spend with their child, to understand them, their behavior, how they think, how they interpret things.
- Observe them if they seems upset after using internet or texting, or hiding their phone uses when you are around them, and some new and lot of unknown numbers are there on phone are some signs that they are in trouble.
- Try to engage them in other meaningful activities rather than only using social websites or online games.
- Earlier, when there was lesser or no use of internet, kids used to go playgrounds. But, now in the era of internet and because of lockdown, they are less focusing on other curricular activities. Play some indoor games or musical chairs, antaakshari, play some songs, dance, etc to involve them and increase their understanding capacity of the real world.
- Always provide them friendly environment and convince them to that extent so they can freely share if they experience and grappling with an unfavorable situation. Make them feel that you are always there and will support them in any circumstances.
- Aware those about the consequences and various acts enacted to prevent online sexual abuse, so if they are involved in them by any means, they will think once before doing it.
- Teach them about good touch, bad touch, what they should share with their parents, how to treat someone, such things will help in their right upbringing.
For social media
- There is requirement of proper identification of a joined member on their website such as facebook, a number of fake ids with wrong ages are available.
- If anyone reports any complaints, there should be taken an immediate action.
- There should be some preventive tool to prohibit the upload of an inappropriate contents or any visuals and apprehend the person or catches the sources or any group involved.
- Keep a track on the most frequent searchers of porn sites or for adult videos, photos, etc. So, if they do involve in something can easily be detained.
“There is no greater inhumanity in the world than hurting or belittling a child”. Our country, where at one place child is considered as purest form of god and at the same time they are being abused, raped, exploited, trafficked, etc. It will continue until and unless the eradication of sex- discrimination. There is need to sanitize their thoughts, and disinfect their irrelevant perceptions. This is a right time for parents to guide their children, concentrate on them and frequently interact with them on all the issues and observe their responses. Social media should also need to modify their safety policies and try to keep an eye on all the inappropriate actions and take immediate and required actions against it. Children should also develop and seek what interests them more, could be painting, dancing, reading books, crafting, and involved in other activities rather than internet which is restraining them to go beyond the reel world. Governments, social media platforms are trying to build robust weapons to prevent the child of their nations; it is also our responsibility to keep our children safe from any means of exploitations.