Securing cyberspace for children: How to tackle online child sexual abuse and exploitation

Source– The post is based on the article “Securing cyberspace for children: How to tackle online child sexual abuse and exploitation” published in The Indian Express on 10th January 2023.

Syllabus: GS2- Vulnerable actions of the population. GS3- Basics of cyber security

Relevance– Issues related to childrens

News– The article explains the increasing danger of online child sex exploitation and abuse and its impacts. It also explains the challenges in dealing with online child sex abuse and suggest solutions to handle these challenges.

Why the threat of online child abuse and exploitation has increased in recent times?

Multiple lockdowns during Covid-19 forced children to turn to the internet for education, entertainment and everything. It led to an increase in their average screen time.

This prolonged online exposure has increased threats to online safety for children.

The rapidly evolving digital landscape and advances in information technology have given rise to better encryption services and the dark net. It has provided a safe cover of anonymity to offenders.

What is online child sexual abuse and exploitation and its impacts?

It refers to activities such as the production and distribution of child sexual abuse material. It also includes live streaming of sexual assault of minors, obtaining sexually explicit material.

This poses serious harm to children. They experience psychological stress such as anxiety, trauma, and depression.

It can also lead to behavioural changes like drug and alcohol abuse, self-harm, and lower motivation for academics.

The consequences of online sexual abuse in childhood are far-reaching. It may extend into adulthood by creating issues with intimacy and affecting interpersonal relationships.

What are the main administrative challenges when dealing with online child abuse?

There exists limited law enforcement capacities and gaps in the legislative framework.

Lack of awareness and urgency around the issue are other challenges.

There is a lack of  workforce in relevant social welfare organisations.

What are the steps taken by the government to tackle online child sex abuse?

It has improved the mechanism for reporting online offences against children.

It has also developed new tools and software to control and remove the presence of child sexual abuse material on social media and other platforms.

Efforts have also been made to sensitise schools and boost the technological capacity of law enforcement agencies to further deal with the issue.

What is the way forward to prevent child abuse?

According to the Model National Response, there are six key domains that should be focussed to effectively address this issue. These are policy and governance, criminal justice, industry, society and culture, research and victim support.

It is imperative to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of cross-sectoral governance mechanisms that are set up to systematise the national response to child sexual abuse material. The huge backlog of child abuse cases must also be fast-tracked.

There is a need to institutionalise the collection of national-level data on child sex abuse. The recent Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2022 can provide an opportunity to meet this exigency.

There should be further development of clear mandates and creation of a logical framework. These should define the roles and duties of all relevant stakeholders within standard operating procedures for investigation.

Continuous dialogue between the industry, government and other collaborators, with a distinct agenda and division of responsibilities is necessary. Industry partners must be provided with suitable training and awareness of the magnitude of child abuse, along with proper toolkits and guidance.

There is need to promote a systematic and constant approach to training the judiciary and prosecution on child abuse. It should be centred around child-sensitive protocols.

Comprehensive remedies or reparations for victims are important. They need to be handled by a specialised workforce.

Basic online safety measures, parental support initiatives and community awareness training can be integrated into existing education programmes.

Existing systems must be evaluated by monitoring and documenting their overall effectiveness and accessibility. It should include assessment of relevant hotlines and portals.

Dedicated effort must be made for ethical and informed media reporting on relevant cases.

A collaborative effort of various institutions across the nation is required to build a safer cyberspace.

Stricter implementation of prevention laws, and adequate resources to sustain these efforts is required.


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