It is rather quite disturbing that an “industry” by itself, exploiting the innocence of children for perverse sexual gratification, not only appears to exist but is also thriving.
The cause of serious concern is that world over millions of pedophiles, child rapists and child pornography addicts seem to have migrated online, making the Internet extremely unsafe for children.
Yes, the issue of child pornography is a growing global menace and India is no exception.
The recent crackdown in Kerala and the arrest of 41 people for allegedly dealing (seeking, collecting, browsing and downloading) in child pornography earlier this week may be just a tip of the ice berg. The arrested include IT-savvy youth and those working in professional jobs.
A total of 268 cases have been registered in raids conducted at 362 locations and 285 electronic devices such as computers, mobile phones/hard disks seized in the operation are said to contain videos and pictures that appear to be of local children in the 6-15 age group. Some of those nabbed were found to be part of global child porn rackets and had been creating and supplying obscene content.
A similar operation in June had also resulted in the arrest of 47 people and such arrests have been in news in other Cities as well.
Apart from district police chiefs, assisted by shadow teams, women personnel, specially trained cyber team in coordination with the Countering Child Sexual Exploitation team headed by an Additional Director General of Police which carried out the operations in Kerala, it was found that specialised groups used the “darknet” platform for posting, harvesting and disseminating such child sexual abuse material (CSAM).
Investigators also identified some upon WhatsApp and Instagram groups, with names such as Corona Life and Gold Garden that specialised in sharing images and videos of children.
The offenders who obsessively downloaded, disseminated or traded CSAM over social media platforms were found to use a mix of surveillance software, social engineering techniques and deceptive social media identities to insinuate themselves into the clandestine child porn sharing circles.
The confiscated content which included videos and images captured furtively were mostly on mobile phones, in the domestic environment during the COVID-19 lockdown period in the State.
The police also found CSAM content sourced from security cameras at homes and in flats and images and videos of children harvested from webcams.
Vast caches of videos and pictures of minors found stored on mobile phones, pen drives, hard discs, tablets and laptop computers which were seized from the suspects only goes to show the magnitude of their operations.
In so far as checking the digital exploitation of children, India has taken several steps. According to Section 67 (B) of the Information Technology Act (IT), 2000 it is an offence to publish or transmit any material depicting children in sexually explicit act, etc. in electronic form. The punishment for the first conviction is imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years and with fine which may extend to Rs 10 Lakh. In the event of second or subsequent conviction, imprisonment of either description for a term may extend to seven years and also with fine which may extend to Rs 10 Lakh.
Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO), the use of child for pornographic purposes is an offence under Section 13 which states that whoever, uses a child in any form of media (including programme or advertisement telecast by television channels or internet or any other electronic form or printed form, whether or not such programme or advertisement is intended for personal use or for distribution), for the purposes of sexual gratification, which includes - (a) representation of the sexual organs of a child; (b) usage of a child engaged in real or simulated sexual acts (with or without penetration); (c) the indecent or obscene representation of a child, shall be guilty of the offence of using a child for pornographic purposes.
The punishment for using a child for pornographic purposes under Section 14 will include a 5 year imprisonment along with a fine. Second or subsequent conviction will invite a 7 year prison term along with fine.
Further, any person who stores or possesses pornographic material in any form involving a child (Section 15), but fails to delete or destroy or report the same to the designated authority, as may be prescribed, with an intention to share or transmit child pornography, shall be fined upto Rs 5000/- and in the event of second or subsequent offence, the fine would be Rs 10,000/-. Similarly any person, who stores or possesses pornographic material in any form involving a child for transmitting or propagating or displaying or distributing in any manner at any time except for the purpose of reporting, as may be prescribed, or for use as evidence in court, shall be punished with an imprisonment up to three years, or with a fine, or with both. Also any person, who stores or possesses pornographic material in any form involving a child for commercial purpose shall be punished on the first conviction with an imprisonment ranging from 3 to 5 years or with a fine, or with both and in the event of second or subsequent conviction, the imprisonment could range between 5 to 7 years along with a fine.
In April this year, media reports had quoted extracts from a study undertaken by the India Child Protection Fund, an NGO. It said that a research on child pornography found that there was a high demand for such pornographic material amongst many cities in the country thereby posing grave risks to its children during the Covid induced lockdown. According to the said ICPF report, the overall demand for child pornography was an average of 5 million per month in 100 cities on the public web during December 2019, which had spiked during lockdown.
The issue of child porn has seen several debates in the Parliament and ultimately resulting in changes in laws concerning children. More recently, Mr Jairam Ramesh led-Adhoc Committee of the Rajya Sabha, set up by the Vice President Mr Venkaiah Naidu last year, had addressed two main issues, namely the access of children to pornographic material as also its circulation thereof on the social media in which children were being abused. In its report submitted this January, according to media reports the Committee had made nearly 40 far reaching recommendations.
Even as the POCSO defines child pornography as any visual depiction (such as photographs or videos) of sexually explicit conduct involving a child, or appearing to depict a child, the Committee is said to have recommended that the definition of child pornography should be expanded to include written material and audio recordings that advocate for or depict sexual activity with a minor. It suggested that using a misleading domain name to deceive a minor into viewing obscene material should be considered an offence besides penalties should be included in the IT Act for those who give children access to pornography and those who access, produce or transmit child sexual abuse material. Apart from regulating online payments used to buy child pornography material, the Committee has proposed that the National Crime Records Bureau must mandatorily record and report all cases of child pornography.
Even though it is satisfying that Kerala’s covert online surveillance operation, code-named P-Hunt, in place for a year to track down and nab paedophiles lurking in the cyberspace, is beginning to pay rich dividends and merits emulation across the country, severity of punishment will deter such crimes.
Given the widespread consumption of child porn, across age groups and geographical locations, the fight against the deep-rooted evil must continue in the right earnest. Besides the use of modern tracking and monitoring systems, awareness campaigns must be initiated to guide the public at large to identify as well as report digital child abuse.
Zero tolerance against crimes concerning children is the need of the hour.