In a first of its kind initiative, Mrs Maneka Gandhi, Minister of Women and Child Development, launched India’s first hotline to report images and videos of child sexual abuse online. The portal is available in both Hindi and English and can be accessed at http://aarambhindia.org/report. Mumbai based NGO, Prerna and the Internet Watch Foundation (a United Kingdom based hotline to remove child sexual abuse content), have come together to form The Aarambh India Initiative.
In order to report the objectionable content, one has to share the address of the website this has been found. The complainant can choose to be anonymous, and the criminality and severity of the content is decided against UK law. After examination, if content is found to be objectionable, it is immediately blocked and removed from cyberspace. The Internet Watch Foundation will determine the location from where objectionable content was uploaded, and is being hosted and contact Aarambh India and the local police. Once the content is removed, the content is assigned a hash- a unique number generated from the data in the content. It will be used to identify, remove copies of the image/video and prevent future uploads.
Speaking at the launch, Maneka Gandhi said, ‘Government is open to new ideas. We frequently change policy and can look to incorporate new initiatives. We should aim to put together an all India alliance for child online safety and ensure that the POSCO e-box and child line work together,’ she said. POCSO refers to ‘Protection of Children against Sexual Offences Act’ of 2012. Prior to POCSO, there were no specific laws which addressed sexual crimes against children. Most cases would be considered under sections in the Indian Penal Code that dealt with rape, unnatural offences or sections even more ambiguous and imprecise such as ‘outraging the modesty of a woman’. Offences like child pornography, harassment and stalking proved difficult to prosecute. POCSO is India’s comprehensive law that not only allows justice for victims of sexual offences but also takes into account the best interests and well-being of the child. It is considered to be a very important piece of legislation in the area of child protection.
The numbers revolving around child sexual abuse in India are mortifying. A Government of India report (2007) on Child Sexual Abuse found that 4.46 percent of 12,000 children surveyed, said that they had been photographed indecently or in the nude. Another 2007 report on Child Abuse by the Department of Women & Child Welfare purports that 53% of children suffer sexual assault. In its 2013 report, the Asian Centre for Human Rights said that more than 48,000 child rape cases were recorded from 2001 to 2011, and that India saw an increase of 336% of child rape cases from 2001 (2,113 cases) to 2011 (7,112 cases). To continue, it is absolutely horrifying that between 2013-2014 there was a 100 per cent increase in the number of cases filed under ‘publication and transmission of obscene’ content, including images and videos of child sexual abuse.
Uma Subramanian, Founder and Co-Director of Aarambh India, said “Increasingly, technology plays a role in sexual offences against children. We have seen instances where sexually explicit pictures of children are taken either for the purpose of blackmail or gratification and this is on the rise. The abstract and global nature of the internet makes it difficult to process and prosecute these cases in a timely manner’.
To put metaphorically, the Internet is an ocean of content, where there is no clear distinction between good and bad, harmful and beneficial. As more of the world’s population comes online, it becomes the need of the hour to ensure that the online space is safe and secure for all genders, ages and races. Our initiatives with Facebook (#SocialSurfing) and Twitter (#TweeSurfing) are steps from our side in this very direction, where we speak about online safety, and the need for social media users to be aware of the perils and pitfalls of sharing personal information online. Through our workshops across the country, we aim to create a sense of awareness among the youth of the country, regarding protecting their dignity and privacy in the online space, and how to use their presence on social media to bring about positive social change, and be responsible citizens.
The launch of Aarambh India’s hotline, and the Government’s support in this, is proof that this issue of child sexual abuse online is a very grave matter and can only be addressed when government, and civil society comes together. Thus, we highly commend this initiative, and wish that through this, malicious content is reduced, and our children remain protected and safe.
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