Online child abuse is on the rise in India during Covid-19 pandemic

By Vineet Khare
BBC Hindi

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India has a high number of children who have been sexually abused.

Police in India’s northern state of Assam were notified by a Facebook user that they received a report about suspicious activity on July 20, 2020.

Information was shared by a non-profit organization that the site had photos and videos of child abuse and may have been promoting CSAM.

A police investigation was opened and a man aged 28 from Guwahati, a nearby village, was arrested.

The men claimed that the mobile of the man contained videos showing children being sexually assaulted.

Geetanjali Doley said, “After looking at the content, I couldn’t sleep for many night,”

The man, according to police, was using his Facebook page to send people to websites and other apps that sell CSAM. Police say they did not arrest him until he made money. The matter has been referred to court.

He has now been granted bail and denied any allegations. I never downloaded videos of child abuse. “I never shared them with anyone, and I did not receive any,” he said to the BBC.

India houses a lot of child sexual abuse victims. The National Crime Records Bureau recorded 43,000 offenses under the strict Pocso Act (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) Act in 2020. This translates into an average of one case per 12 minutes.

However, activists believe the actual numbers are much higher because of the stigma surrounding the subject and the general unwillingness to discuss it.

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CSAM publication, transmission, or possession is prohibited under Indian law. However, they are still widely used. This problem is made worse by the pandemic coronavirus.

According to police officers and activists, the internet demand for child abuse images has increased since last year. This is despite the fact that Covid-19 lockdowns were imposed and people are being kept at home.

The increase in Kerala’s southern state has been nearly 200% to 30% compared with before the pandemic. Manoj Abram, Head of India’s Police Cyberdome (a highly-tech facility within India’s Cyber Security Infrastructure), said that the spike was almost 20% to 30%.

Abraham states that local production has increased due to the pandemic. These abusers often are close family members of victims and people they know.

You can clearly see them in the videos. The danger part of this is that someone is in the house and is exploiting the child or the girl,” he stated.

In other countries, it is the same.

India Child Protection Fund’s report suggests that there is a high demand in CSAM services across 100 Indian cities. This includes the capital Delhi and Mumbai, as well as financial centers Mumbai and Delhi. Between December 2019 to June 2020, the organisation monitored online content in India.

The following was reported by the media:

  • India had a CSAM user base of more than 90% men, 1% women and the remainder were unknown.
  • The majority of people were attracted to “generic CSAM”, such as “school sex videos,” and “teen sex.”
  • VPNs were used extensively by many people to disguise their locations, bypass regulations from the government and protect their platforms.

Experts agree that the causes are easy to identify. Online presence has increased in children and adolescents due to their long lives.

In turn, paedophiles are grooming more children. This has resulted in an increase in distribution and use of CSAM.

According to Dr Vasudeo Parlikar (head of psychiatry, KEM research center in Pune), “Anyone in a locked-down situation, where loneliness, isolation and threat of uncertainity are present, will be more inclined to resort to sexuality to cope,”

Human rights specialists from the United Nations warned in April 2020 that travel restrictions and an increase in internet users would likely result in a substantial spike in the sexual grooming of paedophiles by predators and live streaming child sexual abuse.

CyberTipline from the US’s National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children also received 21.7million reports in the last year. These included images, videos, and other files that contained suspected child sexual abuse material and related content.

Reports rose 28% from 2019 to reflect this. India was also high on this list.

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Siddharth Pillai (a Mumbai-based activist) was approached in August by a sixteen-year-old boy.

He had just found some conversations on the phone that he and his sister (10 years old) shared. It indicated that they were being groomed online.

According to Mr Pillai who is a member of Aarambh (a non-governmental organization that assists victims of sexual abuse with their videos and photos being taken from the internet), it all started on a game app.

It starts with a hello and a goodbye. The conversation then turns to flattery like “I am always thinking about you”. It then turns sexually slowly,” he stated.

Pillai describes this as “a classical grooming strategy”, where the groomer sends the child porn videos and photographs to try to de-sensitize them.

Officials state that child abuse information is often shared on closed dark-web chatrooms where money is traded in bitcoins among strangers. However, the content is increasingly spreading to other platforms such as social media.

Abraham claims that content sharing can be “unorganised”, and occurs among like-minded people.

Kerala Police has taken multiple steps to combat the problem. They have also used sophisticated software to track the IP addresses of suspected offenders. Officials claim that this technique has resulted in nearly 1500 searches and 350 arrests within the past 2 years.

A third software scans the web using certain keywords. This leads them to sites that have CSAM and they are traced back at suspected offenders.

Vinet Kumar, global think-tank CyberPeace Foundation says that Kerala is not the only one struggling to pursue offenders.

According to campaigners, there’s also stigma surrounding sexual abuse in India and paedophilia which make it difficult to address this problem.

Abraham said that it’s the responsibility of parents to monitor their child’s internet footprint. He says, “The secret is to suspect everybody around you child.”

Kinjal Paandya-Wagh also reported

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Source: BBC.com

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