12/22/2016 10:56:45 AM
There are 302 million internet subscribers in India of which 94% are mobile internet users and 6% wired internet (IAMAI, 2016). 28 million out of 400 million Internet users are school-going children (IAMAI, 2015). While India’s rate of Internet access is still relatively low compared to that of other middle-income countries, it is quickly catching up. Most of the growth in Internet access is driven by mobile Internet use.
Little reliable information is available on children’s access to the Internet. While less than 10 per cent of schools in Bihar, Assam and Jharkhand have personal computers (PCs), virtually all schools in Kerala and Chandigarh have PCs.
Digital divide: Major disparities exist in Internet access due to socioeconomic differences, geographic coverage and gender. While 60 per cent of urban dwellers have access to the Internet, only 15 per cent are online in rural areas. The digital divide is equally stark between men and women. In urban areas, women make up one third of Internet users, whereas in rural areas only 10 per cent of Internet users are female. Virtually all urban middle-class men of working age now have Internet access through smartphones, while almost all poor rural women are offline. Many poorer and rural users continue to use basic feature phones for communication and entertainment. The patterns of Internet use also vary between rural and urban areas. While urban users are increasingly going online for communication, social networking, shopping and ticketing, rural use is still predominantly for entertainment.
Current forms of child online abuse and exploitation include:
Cyberbullying: emotional harassment, defamation and social exposure, intimidation, social exclusion;
Online sexual abuse: distribution of sexually explicit and violent content, sexual harassment;
Online sexual exploitation: production, distribution and use of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) (child pornography), "sextortion", "revenge pornography";
Cyber extremism: ideological indoctrination and recruitment, threats of extreme violence;
Online commercial fraud: identity theft, phishing, hacking, financial fraud;
Habit formation and online enticement to illegal behaviors: access to alcohol, cheating, plagiarism, gambling, drug trafficking, sexting and self-exposure;
Grooming: preparing a child, significant adults and the environment for sexual abuse and exploitation or ideological manipulation.
Widespread of sexting and self-exposure in messages among both boys and girls. Consequences of sexting may include trauma, reputation damage, suicide, etc. Sexting, self-exposure and grooming increases the vulnerability of children and adolescents to sexual harassment, abuse, exploitation, financial extortion and “revenge porn”.
There are no reliable figures on the extent, patterns and trends of child online abuse and exploitation in India, since no comprehensive surveys have been carried out on these issues. National crime statistics include a category of cybercrime, but this focuses only on commercial fraud and online radicalization, with no component of child online abuse.
The multidimensional and fast-changing nature of ICT and social media poses unprecedented challenges for the prevention of and response to child online abuse and exploitation. In order to establish child online protection systems, adequate structures, coordination mechanisms, capacities and resources need to be established. One of the key challenges is the transnational nature of the Internet. Conventional legislative frameworks and law enforcement are ineffective in the face of crimes and offences committed in the virtual world by people who live in other countries or continents.
No single agency can ensure the safety of children from online abuse and exploitation. Relevant government institutions, the private sector, international organizations, academia and civil society have to work together to build structures, mechanisms and capacities to prevent and respond to child online abuse and exploitation. A safe online ecosystem for children requires technical solutions and a high degree of preparedness, collaboration and coordination among stakeholders.
In order to ensure prompt removal of Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM), effective collaboration is needed between the ICT industry and law enforcement agencies. India does not yet have a hotline for reporting and removing online CSAM. Data on the reporting and removal of CSAM is not monitored and few people in India have the skills and knowledge to report CSAM. Adequate guidance, protocols or coordinated response are lacking.
Under-reporting of child online abuse: Online offences against children are generally underreported due to a lack of awareness of the law and limited understanding of what constitutes abuse or exploitation. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) only monitors reported cases, which do not reflect the actual incidence of cyber offences against children.
Data collection and analysis: Weak recording systems limit the quality of data analysis. Annual NCRB reports do not collate information on cybercrimes against children. By 2016, the Crime and Criminal Tracking and Network System is expected to record all cases registered at police stations.
Services for victims of child online exploitation and abuse: Only a few facilities exist for child victims of cyber offences and they have limited outreach and are of uneven quality. Specialized facilities for counselling and rehabilitation tend to be concentrated in urban areas. The juvenile justice administration lacks counselling services for underage online offenders and there is no standard response protocol for cases of online abuse and exploitation within the education system. Capacity development initiatives for functionaries of the Integrated Child Protection Scheme do not yet include the management of online abuse and exploitation cases.
Policies and laws
India’s policy and legal framework for cybersecurity is evolving and, despite its limitations, provides a base for building a comprehensive strategy for child online protection. The following laws exist to address cybercrimes:
The Information Technology Act, 2000, which addresses aspects related to cyberspace, and the Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008 are the main pieces of legislation concerned with online activities and cover any communication device used to transmit any text, video, audio or image. The provisions of the National Cyber Security Policy, 2013 enable the development of a dynamic legal framework.
The National Policy for Children (NPC), 2013 does not refer directly to online risks. All policies related to education, ICT or cybersecurity are expected to incorporate the principles of the NPC and provide children with equal opportunities for learning and empowerment, while protecting them from harm.
The National Policy of ICT in Schools, 2012 is more explicit about regulating ICT to protect children from potential risks. It recognizes online risks and has provisions for regulating and monitoring Internet access. The promotion of ICT systems in schools and adult education is included in the National Education Policy.
The National Cyber Security Policy, 2013 addresses the prevention, investigation and prosecution of cybercrimes, including those against children. It calls for strengthening capacities of law enforcement agencies to investigate cybercrimes and gather data to enable prosecution.
The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986 prohibits indecent representations of women and criminalizes the performance of obscene acts and songs but does not punish the audience or those who make the person perform such acts.
The provisions of the Information Technology Act have been strengthened by the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 which deals with online offences against children, including child pornography and grooming. As the Information Technology Act does not have specific provisions for criminal intimidation, hate speech and defamatory content, the provisions of the Indian Penal Code apply in cases of online offences.