Online Child Sexual Abuse in an Pandemic - India on High Alert

The incidence of online child sexual abuse and exploitation (OCSAE) has increased worldwide since the epidemic began. India is responding to this threat in many ways, but more concrete steps need to be taken.

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Since the beginning of 2020, an increasing number of children have been spending more time on the Internet due to lockdowns and school closures due to epidemics. As observed by UNICEF, the increase in children's screen time has threatened their online safety and increased the likelihood of exposure to harmful behaviors and content.

Outbreaks of COVID-19 have led to an increase in the incidence of online sexual abuse and exploitation of children worldwide. In India, cyber crimes against children have increased by more than 400 per cent by 2020. About 90 percent of these crimes involve the publication or dissemination of child sexual abuse material (CSAM). The growing use of social media platforms, the proliferation of online classes and the use of educational apps have all been found to pose a threat to children's online safety.

OCSAE may include a number of activities such as production and distribution of CSAM; Attracting children to sex chats or creating vulgar content; Preparing and enticing children to meet the perpetrator in the real world; Demonstration by the abuser.

Of the six categories of online risk for children identified by UNICEF, sexual exploitation and sexual exploitation can be considered together and referred to as Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Exploitation (OCSAE). OCSAE may include a number of activities such as production and distribution of CSAM; Attracting children to sex chats or creating vulgar content; Preparing and enticing children to meet the perpetrator in the real world; Demonstrativeism by abusers; And allowing a child to engage in prostitution or sex trafficking on the Internet. [I]

Where is India for online safety of children?

India was an early ratifier of the 1990 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and in 2002 it adopted a second alternative protocol to the CRC that would further strengthen the CRC's provisions for online and offline crime.

India has developed a strong legal framework to protect children online. These include the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses (POCSO) Act, 2012; The Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008 which extends the scope of the IT Act, 2000 to identify crimes in which children are most vulnerable; And the recent Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Code of Conduct) Rules, 2021 aimed at preventing the spread of CSAM on social media platforms. Furthermore, sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Unethical Traffic Prevention Act provide a basis for the sale and dissemination of pornographic material, such as OCSAE; Sexual harassment, defamation, criminal threats to children; And online ransom and child trafficking.

The 2020 Child Safety Online Index, surveyed 30 countries in the first year of the epidemic, ranks India ninth (with an ‘average’ rating) for ‘best online safety for young children’ but second in terms of ‘coverage of cyber’. - Dangers facing children. This suggests that children in India face a large and wide range of cyber-risks, but the country’s effectiveness in dealing with these risks is ‘average’.

The 2020 Child Safety Online Index, surveyed 30 countries in the first year of the epidemic, ranks India ninth (with an ‘average’ rating) for ‘best online safety for young children’ but second in terms of ‘coverage of cyber’.

Addressing OCSAE during an epidemic

During the epidemic, India has responded to the OCSAE wave in four ways. This has increased the publicity of the current system for reporting online crimes against children; Tried to take action on CSAM’s online presence, especially on social media; Focused on sensitizing schools and continued to build the capacity of law enforcement agencies (LEAS) and enhance technical capabilities to endanger the safety of children.

Raising awareness about OCSAE reporting system

The two main OCSAE self-reporting systems in India - the POCSO e-box, the Virtual Grievance Management System and the National Cyber ​​Crime Reporting Portal (NCRP) - have been in operation since before the epidemic. Since the beginning of 2020, the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) and the National Commission for Women have redoubled their efforts to raise awareness about this reporting platform and POCSO and IT legislation, launching systematic outreach, advocacy and stakeholder participation programs. Across the country. The exchange of information between the National Crime Records Bureau of India (NCRB) and the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) since 2019 is another mechanism created during the epidemic. NCRB receives tipline reports from NCMEC, which they then share with state-level LEAS, encouraging them to take action.

These initiatives are commendable but the lack of awareness of India’s OCSAE reporting platforms is a challenge, given the extremely low number of self-reported crimes. In 2020-21, 151 complaints were registered in POCSO e-box and in 2020, NCRP registered 1,102 cyber crimes against children. In contrast, NCRB received 2,725,518 OCSAE reports from NCMEC in 2020 alone. Trying to crack down on CSAM on social media platforms.

The controversial Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Code of Conduct) Rules, 2021 is the only new piece of legislation passed during the epidemic that seeks to address CSAM's problem on social media. IT rules call on social media intermediaries to prevent their users from publishing or broadcasting CSAM; Make it mandatory for moderators to develop tools to identify CSAM and block user access to such content. More controversially, the law commands mediators to help find the first source of information when facing a court order to investigate or prosecute a crime related to CSAM or sexually explicit material.

IT rules call on social media intermediaries to prevent their users from publishing or broadcasting CSAM; Make it mandatory for moderators to develop tools to identify CSAM and block user access to such content.

IT rules are problematic. To help social media platforms find content, they need to break their end-to-end encryption by compromising the security of all online communications on the platform. In addition, the rules do not suggest definitive mechanisms for enforcing searchability. Also, the IT laws from which the rules are made do not give the government the right to make technical changes to the platform, the legality of the rules becomes a point of contention. Thus, in principle IT regulations try to handle OCSAE, but it is difficult to see how they will be implemented unless these issues are resolved.

Sensitising schools

Sensitizing schools to OCSAE and other online threats to children is a key focus of India’s peer response. The NCPCR and the Ministry of Education have developed and disseminated manuals for school security that also include existing guidelines, laws and reporting mechanisms related to children's cyber security. Top organizations such as the Central Board for Secondary Education and the National Council for Educational Research and Training have also issued student-friendly handbooks on online child safety issues and trained teachers on cyber-security.

These center-driven initiatives seek to make schools more accountable to their administrators and teachers about the safety of children online and to directly sensitize school children. It is important for state governments to ensure that the same tools are adopted in schools at the state level. The development of a state cyber-security monitoring system for schools could lead to greater compliance.

The NCPCR and the Ministry of Education have developed and disseminated manuals for school security that also include existing guidelines, laws and reporting mechanisms related to children's cyber security.

Strengthening human and technical capabilities

Finally, the training of LEAs and judicial officers under the 'Cyber ​​Crime Prevention Against Women and Children' scheme run by the Home Ministry has been resumed in an emergency. These human capacity building efforts have been complemented by the technological initiatives of Big Tech companies to counter OCSAE since the epidemic began. In India, for example, both Google and Facebook have taken steps to remove CSAM from their platforms and launched programs to educate children about online safety.

The way forward

As India enters the third year of the epidemic, it would be good to assess how it can strengthen its OCSAE response systems. Limited awareness of OCSAE prevention laws, resources and reporting mechanisms is a major obstacle. Sensitization efforts should become significantly more visible and sustainable. Online child safety should not be seen as just a matter of responding to a crisis caused by an epidemic.

The phased nationwide 360-degree awareness campaign, supported by the Indian mass media, could serve as an important first step in getting the attention of those in need. At the same time, integrating modules on OCSAE into computer science and sex education curricula in schools ensuring that centrally developed knowledge products will be made available in multiple regional languages ​​can go a long way towards sensitizing high-risk audiences. Third, the troubling large backlog of cases of crimes against children in India must be addressed immediately and efforts must be made to resolve OCSAE cases as a matter of priority.

Integrating the modules on OCSAE into computer science and sex education curricula in schools while ensuring that centrally developed knowledge products will be made available in multiple regional languages-can go a long way towards sensitizing high-risk audiences.

The private sector will have to ally in the war against OCSAE. The IT Rules, 2021 require sensitive and thorough re-evaluation before they can actually be implemented by social media intermediaries. Amendments to the recently proposed draft of these rules include some suggestions that may have positive consequences, but controversial clauses about traceability and decryption remain unchanged. Further, India has so far failed to persuade Internet service providers to cooperate in its efforts to block access to CSAM. This record needs to be improved.

Finally, India can adopt a more external approach and seek bilateral or multilateral partnerships to promote the safety of children online. To address OCSAE, strategic partnerships can be considered with countries like Australia, which are known for their robust mechanisms, with which India is already collaborating on a range of cyber and technology initiatives. Working together to exchange knowledge, develop the capabilities of LEAs, and disrupt the operations of CSAM criminals can be extremely beneficial for both partners and can help create a safer and more secure cyberspace for children

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