The Lockdown Effect and Pornography

Published : May 01, 2020 10:15 am | By: M D Sridharan

An alarming rise in the demand for child pornography material has been seen ever since the Covid-19 induced lockdown was enforced. The data presents a chilling reality of the extreme threat faced by India's children

The Internet and mobile phones have become all-pervasive in today’s modern life. Right from the kindergarten kids to the highly qualified professionals, all are using the ubiquitous internet. Whether it is for buying sundry items for day to day use or buying luxurious goods or even enhancing knowledge, the internet has come to dominate the lives of the people.

With the availability of high speed broadband connections, and advanced mobile technology, the overall reliance on the internet has grown exponentially. The advent of Smart Phones, has further boosted the Internet usage.  Studies on the importance of the Internet in the lives of people have revealed that in the last ten years nearly 70 per cent of the people spend more time on the Internet than with their families.

It is true that the Internet has altered the global communication and has helped people to stay in connect. But, beyond the excellent the benefit it imparts, the ubiquitous Internet also helps various evils to spread easily and in the process making a section of the society highly vulnerable.

The dangerous evil of the Internet is Pornography, and in a way the Internet has propelled pornography. Even more dangerous evil is the Child Pornography, also referred to as 'Child Sexual Abuse Material' (CSAM). All over the world the culprits involved in these heinous acts have conveniently used the Internet for the propagation of the Pornography and makes the viewing of the porn material easy.

While Pornography displays the act of adults, Child pornography is considered as   the sexual exploitation of children. Sexual exploitation of children has been defined as "the use of children to meet the sexual needs of others, at the expense of the child’s emotional and physical needs. The World Health Organization defines Child Sexual Abuse as the involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she is incapable of wholly understanding.

With the actual explosion of the usage of the Internet, the pornography industry also grew exponentially. All over the world governments are struggling to curb this menace. While even the nations which are considering the outrageous act of obscenity as the right of an individual such as freedom of  speech and expression,  have joined hands in banning Child Pornography.

In India Child Pornography is defined under Section 13 of The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012 which state how and when a child is sexually abused for the purpose of porn would be treated as an offender for child pornography. Thought the act provides with the Penal Punishment for the commission of the offence but still it basically covers the basic acts of crime which are defined in the particular POCSO Act.

The Lockdown  Pornography

The lockdown imposed by the government of India in the wake of the ongoing epidemic COVID 19, which has forced millions of people to stay indoors,  has unfortunately resulted in a huge surge in viewing pornography.

According to a recent study by the India Child Protection Fund (ICPF) revealed disturbing statistics that the country has witnessed an alarming rise in the demand for pornography material, especially Child Pornography, ever since the Covid-19 induced lockdown was enforced.

According to the ICPF, the online data monitoring websites are showing an increase in demand for searches like 'child porn', 'sexy child' and 'teen sex videos'. Data from Pornhub, the world's largest pornography website in the world, also reveals that traffic from India has increased by 95 per cent during the lockdown period as compared to their average traffic.

The ICPF has released a report titled 'Child Sexual Abuse Material in India', a research of child pornography demand in 100 cities in India like New Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bhubaneswar and Indore. The overall demand for child pornography has now spiked drastically. In its report the ICPF said that New Delhi was amongst the cities where there is a "high demand" for child pornographic material. The report reveals up to a 200 per cent increase in demand for violent content which shows children "choking", "bleeding" and 'tortured". "Metro cities like New Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai, besides many Tier II and capital cities, which are seeing a sharp increase in coronavirus cases, have been red-flagged by the study as hotspots for child pornography," the ICPF said.

 

Besides the spike in viewing Pornography, ICPF has warned that the trend indicates millions of paedophiles, child rapists and child pornography addicts have migrated online, making the Internet extremely unsafe for children. Without stringent action, this could result in a drastic rise in sexual crimes against children. The ICPF report also cites Europol, United Nations, ECPAT (A global network of civil society organisations that works to end the sexual exploitation of children) reports which say that children are now more prone to online grooming and sexual coercion.

Also it has been reported that the number of distressed calls received by the Childline India, which is backed by the Ministry for Women & Child Development and is the nodal agency for initiating and sustaining CHILDLINE 1098 across the nation, has crossed more than a lakh asking for protection from abuse and violence in the  first two weeks of lockdown.

“The figure presents a chilling reality of the extreme threat faced by India's children during this period of lockdown. Demand for child sexual abuse material indicates children are more vulnerable to sexual predators," ICPF said.

India and Legal Issues to Curb Pornography

In India too, the rapid growth of the Internet and technology has resulted in the rise and availability of pornography easily. Actually, in India there is no law banning watching pornography in personal space. But, it is punishable to show children any pornographic content as per the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2002, and the Section 67A of the Information Technology Act makes publication, transmission and causing to be transmitted and published in electronic form any material containing sexually explicit act or conduct, punishable with imprisonment up to 5 years and fine up to 10 lakhs

In India Child Pornography is defined under Section 13 of The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012 which state how and when a child is sexually abused for the purpose of porn would be treated as an offender for child pornography. Thought the act provides with the Penal Punishment for the commission of the offence but still it basically covers the basic acts of crime which are defined in the particular POCSO Act.

In order to curb the menace legally, the Indian Government has enacted various reforms to strengthen its legal frameworks. In 2015, the government of India had blocked around 857 pornographic websites that are engaged in pornography. But, the complete ban was later lifted and only implemented to those websites containing child porn.

As Pornography is transmitted through the Internet, with the easy availability of the porn material the problem of Jurisdiction also plays a big part in taking action against the porn websites, as most of the websites operate from a foreign land and thus makes it difficult for the Indian government to tackle and weed these sites out. Nations are indeed struggling to overcome the concept of jurisdiction and it becomes very difficult for the law to control and take appropriate actions against such crime. Pornographic websites are playing hide-and-seek with Indian law and judiciary by simply changing their website URLs.  Such websites provides an opportunity to paedophiles to easily access the Internet and download any illegal picture or movie from any source in the world and  from anywhere in the world.

Further, as Child Pornography is illegal, mostly such websites are generally hidden on the web which makes the task of the regulatory bodies and implementing bodies to actually track the children who are involved in this particular form of indecent act and rescue them. There has been an estimated revenue collection of about several million to a billion that this industry generates so there are various people who are involved and actually earning bread and butter to this.

Dangers Ahead

Further, the impact of the Pornography on children is really a cause of concern.  It creates a psychological impact on children and leads to depression, anger and anxiety and finally.  The other problem is that the children who are involved in this particular crime are themselves victim and it leaves a grave and a deep impact on them and it is imperative that they need special care and protection.

Even for adults, if watched regularly, it becomes a sexual obsession and addiction and also stimulates the mind to perform the acts in real life. Psychologists have also warned watching pornography increases sexual violence and violence against women.

ICPF has requested the authorities to further step up online vigil in these cities for potential exploiters. Also the Rajya Sabha Committee on the issue, instituted by Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, has recommended stringent laws for Internet service providers like Jio and Airtel, and platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, to hold them accountable for child abuse enabled by these companies.

The ICPF pointed out that it is a blatant violation of the directions of the Honourable Supreme Court and also reiterated the urgent need to implement these recommendations. ICPF has demanded an urgent crackdown on child pornography pan-India, using AI to monitor such activities. It suggests the use of AI to monitor hosting, sharing, viewing and downloading of material that includes child sexual abuse which can then be reported to government agencies, 

The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has taken cognizance of the research study of ICPF on online CSAM. In the notice to WhatsApp, the commission said while conducting the independent inquiry on the availability of online CSAM, it noticed that there are certain links available to join "encrypted WhatsApp groups" and "CSAM and pornographic materials are rampantly present" in these groups.

"The links to these encrypted WhatsApp groups were found to be propagated and available on the internet. Any user by merely following these links can join these 'encrypted WhatsApp groups' and can obtain the CSAM and pornographic materials through these group chats on their phones," the commission noted.

Further, there is also the possibility that the perpetrators are also present and active on these "encrypted WhatsApp groups", which makes children even more vulnerable. In the notice to Twitter, the commission said that while conducting an independent inquiry, it noticed that there are encrypted WhatsApp groups and the CSAM is rampantly present in these groups.

The links to these groups were found to be propagated by various handles on Twitter. The commission is of the view that propagating links of these WhatsApp groups on Twitter handles is a serious matter. "Further, it is seen that as per your standard terms and conditions, a person of 13 years and above is eligible to open an account on Twitter. If you are allowing children at the age of 13 to open an account, the commission is of the view that you can't allow the other users to publish or propagate pornographic material, links etc. on Twitter," read the notice to Twitter.

The Government of India must urgently crackdown on child pornography. It must initiate a global dialogue by calling for an international convention against child sexual abuse material. International agencies such as Europol, the United Nations and ECPAT have also reported increased online activity from paedophiles and child pornography addicts amid lockdown. They have taken to targeting children by befriending them online on social media to ‘groom’ them and later lure them to perform sexual activities through photos and videos, the report said.

It is time that the government of India must enforce a stricter law that completely ban the available porn websites and also destroy the available material in order to prevent the exploitation children from sexual abuse.

                                                                                                            

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