The Central government is set to file a status report in the Supreme Court about the initiatives it is taking to curb child pornography in the country. But the matter has already thrown up facts that are surely worrying. A US-based private body, the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), which provides free technical details to 99 countries including India on uploading of child porn, has informed the Union Home Ministry it has a large number of reports about illegal imagery related to child abuse or pornography “having been uploaded from Indian territory”. Then there is the question about numbers of Indian children being exploited in such objectionable material. The data is sketchy, but according to National Crimes Records Bureau (NCRB) there were 96 reports of children being sexually exploited online in 2015, which was 135% more compared to 2014. Presently hearing a petition seeking a directive to the government to block all websites hosting pornographic content, the Supreme Court has expressed serious concern over child pornographic websites “being run deliberately to earn money”. On its part, the Centre informed the SC bench last week that in June itself, as many as 3,522 websites carrying objectionable content were blocked. Promising to deal with the situation “in its entirety”, the government also said the CBI shares with it an Interpol list on the worst of online child sexual abuse material, and this list is updated regularly. The problem is, the country doesn’t yet have a centralised mechanism to dynamically monitor such websites. So the Centre has to order internet service providers (ISPs) to block these sites, surely a piecemeal way of going about it. By July 31 next, the Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI) and Department of Telecommunication (DoT) have been directed by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to adopt the internet watch foundation (IWF) list to block or disable such sites. The Home Ministry is also setting up a Cyber Crime Prevention against Women and Children (CCWPC) portal likely to be ready from October this year.
All these measures are directed to block online child pornography material at the source, but what about controlling things at the users’ end, namely the school and home? Computer education has become a part of school curriculum, but students nowadays do not even have to sit at classroom terminals to access smut on the Web, particularly if they are being monitored by CCTV. They can very well do it with their smartphones on the school bus itself, or in the campus. During the apex court hearing, it was even asked whether jammers can be installed in school campuses and buses. The Centre told the SC bench that the CBSE has been instructed to take up the issue with school managements. “It’s not possible to have jammers in buses, but to install them inside school premise is under consideration,” informed the Additional Solicitor General. And what about curbing access to such material at home? This is where households will need to be aware about the menace, with the Central government mooting the use of ‘parental filters’ in end-user machines like smartphones and computers. In fact, the DoT has taken up the matter with ISPs to inform subscribers by sms, email and websites about the need to install parental filters immediately. Such an awareness campaign has to be taken up on urgent footing, for lurking in the wake of smutty material in the Web are stalkers, traffickers, paedophiles and pornographers, ever ready to prey on unwitting children. A few laws have been amended to combat this menace, notably Section 67 of the Information Technology Act which has made it an offence to create and transmit such obscene material in digital form and also browsing such websites, Section 292-293 of IPC prohibiting sale of such material to minors and the Protection of Child from Sexual Abuses Act, 2012 that punishes child pornography. But there are calls for tougher legislation, apart from an effective central monitoring mechanism by investigating agencies. Peer pressure at school can attract kids to pornography at an impressionable age, while communication gap with parents at home leaves them vulnerable to abuse. The shame associated also ensures that such crimes are less frequently reported. Rather than outright control, it is right awareness and keeping tabs by all stakeholders that will help frame an effective approach, be it the government agencies, internet service providers, school managements and parents.