Children: The Victim of Online Sexual Harassment in India

Children: The Victim of Online Sexual Harassment in India

By: Nisha Agarwal, SLS Hyderabad 

INTRODUCTION 

With the advancement of the internet and technology, the lives of the people have become easier. A world without the internet cannot be visualized now. Having said that, the use of the internet has benefits as well as detriments. Online platforms are gradually becoming the breeding ground for cybercrimes.

The crime of online sexual harassment is one such crime that is increasing at an alarming rate. A few decades ago, the conduct of sexual harassment through online platforms was out of the question.  

According to Childnet International, online sexual harassment is defined as “unwanted sexual conduct on any digital platform. It includes a wide range of behaviors that use technology to share digital content such as images, videos, posts, messages, pages, etc.”[1] This digitalized world is now facing the issue of online sexual crimes in India.

According to the report of National Crime Record Bureau in 2017, 17,557 sexual abuse cases were registered[2] and as per the report in 2018, 21,605 cases were registered under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO)[3]. There was an increase of 23% of sexual harassment cases among children in India.

As per the report of 2019, 63 online sexual harassment cases were registered in three months before the cyber unit of the Online Child Sexual Abuse & Exploitation (OCSAE).[4] As per the records of ChildLine India, around 3,00,000 cases along with 92,000 SOS calls have taken place in 2020 during the lockdown[5].

Looking into the number of cases, it is of immense importance to safeguard the privacy and interest of the children. This article focuses on the factors responsible for online sexual abuse crimes among children in India and the effective measures to combat this issue. 

ROOT CAUSES OF ONLINE SEXUAL HARASSMENT AMONG CHILDREN

As part of this research, an empirical study was conducted by the author regarding the highly debated and ongoing battle faced by India. People of age above 18 years were targeted for this particular study.

A convenience and voluntary sample method was adopted for this survey where the author personally requested people to fill the questionnaire and posted it on LinkedIn through which 300 responses were gathered. Among the 300 participants, 89.3% of them are aware that children are getting harassed online (Figure 1).

With each passing day, this issue is worsening instead of getting better. Sometimes stringent laws are not sufficient to resolve the issues. In order to get into the crux of the problem, this study was conducted to analyse the determinants responsible for online sexual harassment amongst children in India ( Figure 2). The participants were free to choose more than one factor responsible for this crime.

CHILDREN: THE VICTIM OF ONLINE SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN INDIA

(FIGURE 1)

figure 2

(FIGURE 2)

  • ACCESS TO SMARTPHONES

Children of this generation have easy access to smartphones at a very young age along with high-speed internet which is a factor for them indulging into wrongful activities. As per the study, 32.3% of the participants feel that access to smartphones is a factor for child sexual abuse (Figure 2). 

They are often involved in activities like ‘sexting’ which means “the  practice of youth writing sexually explicit messages, taking sexually explicit photos of  themselves or others in their peer group, and transmitting those photos and/or messages to their peers.”[6] They accept friendship requests from unknown people, chat and video call with them and end up having a sexual conversation.

Most of them are unaware that their messages or photos are being transmitted and produced to someone else which results in cyberbullying, sexual harassment or even blackmailing.[7]  

  • INFLUENCED BY PORNOGRAPHY

The link between pornography and online crimes committed by children cannot be ignored. The ideas and the urge of sexual activities are often derived by watching porn at a younger age.[8] As per the survey conducted, 58.7% of the participants are of the view that the children are influenced by pornography.

In India, during the lockdown, the number of children watching porn have rapidly increased to 95%[9]. On 20th June 2020, a case was registered in Coimbatore where minor boys were watching porn on their smartphones and forced an 11-year-old girl to watch and tried to sexually assault her[10]. Easy availability of sexual materials is also a key factor for them to visualise sexual activities, increasing their expectations due to which they end up conducting such crime at this early age. 

  • LACK OF AWARENESS AND CONSEQUENCE OF SUCH ACT

On the basis of the findings, 76.7% of the participants believe that the children are unaware of the consequence of the act. They are often indulged into wrongful activities by not knowing its consequences and its future implications on their life. Social Networking Sites are not a safe place for children. It has always been criticized that the children are attracted towards inappropriate activities via social media due to which they are subjected to online sexual abuses.

There are websites like Chatroulette and Omegle which restricts the users below the age of 18 but it is very obvious and easy for them to create a fake account. These websites give them a platform for online chat rooms where they exchange inappropriate pictures, flirt with strangers and disclose private information[11]. The solution is not to ban these websites, but to create awareness among children.

The most recent boys locker room case is also an instance of misuse of social media where boys in their Instagram group shared inappropriate messages and pictures of a minor girl and was planning to abuse her. Later, these boys were also threatening and harassing the girl[12]. They are simply unaware of the consequences of such acts and often get carried away by these social networking sites. 

  • LACK OF SEX EDUCATION

Laws cannot provide good moral values to the children. It cannot teach them what is right and wrong regarding their sexual activities. In reality, it is the duty of parents and educational institutions to provide such values in a child. Educational institutions must provide sex education at an appropriate age[13].

As per Figure 2, 261 out of 300 participants believes that India lacks sex education which is a key factor for sexual harassment crimes among children at a younger age. By educating both children and parents, we can reduce misconduct of sexual activities. Correct decisions will be taken by the children due to proper awareness of their activities.  

PREVENTIVE AND PROTECTIVE MEASURES

Indian legislators have recognized the importance of legislation to resolve the crimes committed against children. “The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO) was introduced to protect children below 18 years from offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography and provide for the establishment of Special Courts for the trial of such offences and for related matters.”[14] In 2019, ‘Online Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation’ (OCSAE) was set up under the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in order to combat the growing cyber crimes among the children.

A new guideline was also set up by the National Advisory in 2012 for preventing the children from sexual harassment[15]. However, after analysing the root cause of online sexual harassment among children it can be concluded that this problem cannot be solved only by making new legislation and establishing preventive guidelines. Another part of the study focuses to understand the most effective measure to combat this issue.

figure 3

(FIGURE 3)

As per the study conducted, quite less emphasis was given on the need for changing the existing legal provisions. 261 out of 300 participants (Figure 3) believe that the government should make mandatory sex education in every schools and institution in order to combat this issue.

Neglect of parents is also the main reason for the children indulging into inappropriate activities. Talking about sex is still a taboo in our society which needs to be changed[16]. This small step can lead to saving many children who are the victim of the crime.

Moreover, 226 out of 300 (Figure 3) participants also focused on a need for psychological counselling. It can help to analyse the reason for a person showing sexual interest in a child. It is also important to understand the mental disturbances of a child faces sexual harassment.

We must ensure that the child does not have a long term impact of the crime. Psychologists are in the best position to understand the reasons behind a child committing a crime and even help the victim to revive.

SUGGESTIONS

According to me, more awareness needs to be created by conducting programmes and workshops for both children and parents. Maturity of the mind comes with exposure to healthy attitudes and it takes time to build. But active awareness programs can reduce the time it takes to build this and helps in reducing the number of mistakes teenagers might make.

It is now a necessity for the parents to be acquainted with social media and all sexual materials available online. Educating parents is also important so that they can practice and educate their children on these matters. They are required to openly talk about sex with their children.

Individuals have different connotations about sex and its related activities. It is time that we teach our children about it and stops pretending this to be something which will be self known when an individual grows up. Along with this, the easy availability of sexual materials online is also influencing the children. Online content should always be reviewed and content should be responsibly consumed. Internet Service Providers and web applications should be monitored and a ban on VPNs must be imposed to reduce the availability of sexual materials. 

CONCLUSION

It is paramount importance to protect the children from online sexual harassment which is prevailing due to advancement of technology and easy availability of smartphones and the internet. Children of this generation are more prone to sexual materials available online.

Every other child in India is the victim of sexual harassment. They are also influenced by pornography which provokes or gives them the idea for their sexual activities. The main issue is lack of awareness. Children are unaware of the consequences of such acts. This can only be solved by mandatory sex education in every school and institutions.

Parents should openly talk about sex with their children instead of hiding it. These morals can only be taught to children by their parents and teachers and cannot be inculcated through legislation. In every situation, the law cannot become a preventive measure to combat the issue.

It can only put fear in the minds of children if they are aware of the consequences of their actions. Thus, building and development of a child in the right path always start from home. More awareness and workshops for both parents and children can definitely help to combat this issue to some extent. 

REFERENCES

  • INDIAN LEGISLATIONS:
  • Indian Penal Code, 1860
  • Sections 66E & 67B of the Information Technology Act 2000
  • Sections 11, 13, 15 & 16 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act 2012
  • JOURNALS:
  • Ahmad, D. S. (2020). Critical analysis of the protection of children from the sexual offences act, 2012 regarding the age of consent for sexual relations (SSRN Scholarly Paper No. ID 3557238). Retrieved from Social Science Research Network website
  • Bourke, M. L., & Hernandez, A. E. (2009). The ‘butner study’ redux: A report of the incidence of hands-on child victimization by child pornography offenders. Journal of Family Violence, 24(3), 183–191. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10896-008-9219-y
  • Child Rights and You (CRY), 2020, “Online Safety and Internet Addiction (A Study Conducted Amongst Adolescents in Delhi-NCR)”, February 2020; New Delhi
  • Choudhry, V., Dayal, R., Pillai, D., Kalokhe, A. S., Beier, K., & Patel, V. (2018). Child sexual abuse in India: A systematic review. PLOS ONE, 13(10), e0205086. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0205086
  • de Santisteban, P., & Gámez-Guadix, M. (2018). Prevalence and risk factors among minors for online sexual solicitations and interactions with adults. The Journal of Sex Research, 55(7), 939–950. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2017.1386763
  • Rogers, P., Wczasek, R., & Davies, M. (2011). Attributions of blame in a hypothetical internet solicitation case: Roles of victim naivety, parental neglect and respondent gender. Journal of Sexual Aggression, 17(2), 196–214. https://doi.org/10.1080/13552601003664869
  • Sacco, D., Argudin, R., Maguire, J., & Tallon, K. (2010). Sexting: Youth Practices and legal implications (SSRN Scholarly Paper No. ID 1661343). Retrieved from Social Science Research Network website: https://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=1661343
  • Sengupta, A., & Chaudhuri, A. (2008). Are social networking sites a source of online harassment for teens? Evidence from survey data (SSRN Scholarly Paper No. ID 1285778). Retrieved from Social Science Research Network website: https://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=1285778
  • Stader, D. L., & Graca, T. J. (2007). student-on-student sexual orientation harassment: Legal protections for sexual minority youth. The Clearing House, 80(3), 117–122. Retrieved from JSTOR

Endnotes

  1. Childnet. (n.d.). Online sexual harassment. Retrieved July 5, 2020, from Childnet website: http://www.childnet.com/teachers-and-professionals/for-working-with-young-people/hot-topics/online-sexual-harassment
  2. National Crime Record Bureau (n.d.). Retrieved July 9, 2020, from https://data.gov.in/resources/stateut-wise-offenders-relation-child-victims-pocso-act-section-4-6-during-2017
  3. National Crime Record Bureau (n.d.). Retrieved July 9, 2020, from https://data.gov.in/resources/stateut-wise-offenders-relation-child-victims-pocso-act-section-4-6-during-2018
  4. CID gets 63 cases of online child sex abuse in 3 months. (n.d.). Retrieved July 5, 2020, from The New Indian Express website: https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/karnataka/2020/jan/03/cid-gets-63-cases-of-online-child-sex-abuse-in-3-months-2084352.html
  5. Pothula, S. (2020, May 5). This Delhi-based NGO aims to prevent child sexual abuse in India with The Rakshin Project. Retrieved July 5, 2020, from YourStory.com website: https://yourstory.com/socialstory/2020/05/sakshi-ngo-child-sexual-abuse-awareness-campaign
  6. Sacco, D., Argudin, R., Maguire, J., & Tallon, K. (2010). Sexting: Youth practices and legal implications (SSRN Scholarly Paper No. ID 1661343). Retrieved July 6, 2020, from Social Science Research Network website: https://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=1661343
  7. de Santisteban, P., & Gámez-Guadix, M. (2018). Prevalence and risk factors among minors for online sexual solicitations and interactions with adults. The Journal of Sex Research, 55(7), 939–950. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2017.1386763
  8. Bourke, M. L., & Hernandez, A. E. (2009). The ‘butner study’ redux: A report of the incidence of hands-on child victimization by child pornography offenders. Journal of Family Violence, 24(3), 183–191. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10896-008-9219-y
  9. Pareek, A. J. & Y. (2020, June 23). Child pornography in india during the lockdown: Are our children safe? Retrieved  July 7, 2020, from https://www.livelaw.in/columns/child-pornography-in-india-during-the-lockdown-are-our-children-safe-158778
  10. Coimbatore teens held for sexually assaulting 11-year-old girl. (n.d.). Retrieved July 7, 2020, from The New Indian Express website: https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/tamil-nadu/2020/jun/20/coimbatore-teens-held-for-sexually-assaulting-11-year-old-girl-2159231.html
  11. Sengupta, A., & Chaudhuri, A. (2008). Are social networking sites a source of online harassment for teens? Evidence from survey data (SSRN Scholarly Paper No. ID 1285778). Retrieved July 7, 2020,  from Social Science Research Network website: https://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=1285778
  12. India Today (n.d.). Delhi Police files another FIR in Bois Locker Room case after girl receives threats for exposing abusive chat. Retrieved July 9, 2020, from India Today website: https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/delhi-police-files-fir-in-bois-locker-room-case-1686690-2020-06-08
  13. Ahmad, D. S. (2020). Critical analysis of the protection of children from the sexual offences act, 2012 regarding the age of consent for sexual relations (SSRN Scholarly Paper No. ID 3557238). Retrieved July 7, 2020 from Social Science Research Network website: https://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=3557238
  14. Reviewing India’s protection of children from sexual offences act three years on. (2015, December 18). Retrieved July 7, 2020 from South Asia @ LSE website: https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/southasia/2015/12/18/reviewing-indias-protection-of-children-from-sexual-offences-act-three-years-on/
  15. Child Rights and You (CRY), 2020, “Online Safety and Internet Addiction (A Study Conducted Amongst Adolescents in Delhi-NCR)”, February 2020; New Delhi
  16. Rogers, P., Wczasek, R., & Davies, M. (2011). Attributions of blame in a hypothetical internet solicitation case: Roles of victim naivety, parental neglect and respondent gender. Journal of Sexual Aggression, 17(2), 196–214. https://doi.org/10.1080/13552601003664869

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *