Cybercrime, particularly in the form of online sexual exploitation, poses a significant risk to women and children. The ease of access to the internet and the anonymity it provides can enable offenders to engage in activities such as distributing child pornography, grooming children for sexual abuse, and cyberstalking.
Exposure to pornography at a young age can lead to negative outcomes such as sexism, objectification, and violence. Individuals and society as a whole need to be aware of these risks and take steps to protect children and young people from online harm. This includes educating children and parents about internet safety, as well as enforcing laws and regulations to hold offenders accountable for their actions.
UNICEF is concerned about the proliferation of child pornography and other forms of online sexual exploitation. These crimes can have serious consequences for children, including psychological harm, physical harm, and other forms of abuse.
Despite efforts to regulate content and restrict children's access to pornography, the vast amount of explicit material available online and the ease of access to it makes it difficult to protect children from these harms. UNICEF calls for greater efforts to protect children from online sexual exploitation, including stricter laws and regulations, better education and awareness-raising efforts, and cooperation between governments, civil society, and the private sector.
Definition of Child Pornography
In India, laws regarding obscenity and pornography are not specially defined, and interpretations of what constitutes obscene or pornographic material can vary. However, child protection laws in India are specifically defined and are stringent to protect minors from exploitation and abuse.The Indian Penal Code (IPC) addresses the distribution and sale of such material but does not distinctively define "obscenity" or "pornography.
The difficulty in defining obscenity or pornography complicates law and regulatory enforcement, particularly when it comes to obscenity online. The offline definition of obscenity includes any language, literature, or depiction that deals with erotic, pornographic, or sexually perverse themes, but the determination of obscenity is subjective and may depend on the opinion of the viewer or reader. This underscores the need for clear and specific laws and regulations to address the concerns of cyber obscenity in India.
Statistics on the Prevalence of Child Pornography in India
The review of studies on child sexual abuse (CSA) in India shows that the prevalence of CSA is high among both boys and girls. However, due to the diversity of study designs and lack of standardized assessments, the reported prevalence estimates vary greatly among studies and both genders. The review highlights that certain groups, such as commercial sex workers, gay sex, and women with psychiatric disorders, are at a higher risk for sexual abuse during childhood.
The synthesis of qualitative data across studies suggests that exposure and perpetration of CSA is a multifaceted phenomenon rooted in the interactions between individual, family, community, and societal factors. The review also shows poor physical, behavioral, social, and mental health outcomes of CSA in India. To address this issue, a research agenda is needed to explore the determinants and perpetration of CSA in India from an ecological lens and to inform the development of culturally tailored primary prevention and treatment strategies for CSA victims in India.
The Childline India Foundation reported a 50% increase in phone calls during the last two weeks of the lockdown, with 30% of those calls related to protection from abuse. This highlights the increased vulnerability of children to sexual abuse during the lockdown, as isolation has limited support networks and made it more difficult for victims to seek help or escape. The data also reveals that 93% of perpetrators are relatives or known individuals, exposing the possible magnitude of the associated helplessness and mental health consequences in the victims.
The vulnerable population, such as the homeless, rag pickers, and those who beg on the streets, are at a higher risk of exploitation in exchange for a meal or a daily wage, just enough to sustain their livelihood. The Childline India Foundation also reported receiving "silent calls" on their helplines, where the child behind the call did not know "what/how to express." These highlight the urgent need for more effective measures to protect children from sexual abuse and provide help to victims during the lockdown and beyond.
The Laws Surrounding Child Pornography in India
Some laws govern child pornography-related issues as follows:
The Protection of a Child From Sexual Offenses (POSCO) Act:
The POCSO Act, 2012 is in line with Article 15(3) of the Indian Constitution, which allows for the government to make special provisions for children. The Act, which stands for Protection of Children against Sexual Offences Act, was a significant step in addressing the issue of child sexual abuse in India. Before the act, there were no specific laws addressing sexual crimes against children, and such offenses were only covered under the IPC.
The POCSO Act addresses several forms of sexual abuse, including showing pornography to children, and it also includes provisions for prosecuting sexual offenses against boys, which was not possible under previous legislation. The Act is considered landmark legislation in the area of child protection, as it not only allows for justice for child victims of sexual offenses but also takes into account the best interests and well-being of the child.
The Information Technology (IT) Act:
The Information Technology Act, of 2000 (IT Act) is a law primarily dealing with cybercrime and e-commerce.
The IT Act of India defines child pornography as any representation through electronic media (including computer-generated images and animations) of a child engaged in sexually explicit conduct. The act makes it illegal to produce, create, publish, or possess child pornography in India, and penalties for violating this law include imprisonment and fines. The law is aimed at protecting children from sexual exploitation and abuse.
Penalties for Possession, Distribution, and Production of Child Pornography in India
Section 292 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 makes it a criminal offense to sell, distribute, exhibit, circulate, import, or export any obscene material, including pictures, paintings, writings, books, pamphlets, or drawings that are lustful or lewd, or that deprave or corrupt another person.
The punishment for a first conviction under this section shall be imprisonment for a term that may extend to 2 years and a fine that may extend to Rs. 2000. For subsequent convictions the punishment may be increased to imprisonment for a term that may extend to 5 years and a fine which may extend to Rs. 5000.
Right With the increasing availability of pornographic material in electronic form, Section 67A, and Section 67B of the Information Technology Act, of 2000 were introduced to address this issue. Section 67A of the Act criminalizes the publication or transmission of sexually explicit acts or conduct in electronic form and is punishable on first conviction by imprisonment for a term that may extend to five years and a fine which may extend to Rs. 10,00,000. For subsequent convictions, the imprisonment is extended to seven years. Section 67B of the Act criminalizes the same offense if it involves sexually explicit acts depicting children. The punishment for this is imprisonment for a term that may extend to five years and a fine that may extend to Rs. 10,00,000 on the first conviction. A subsequent conviction is punishable by imprisonment for up to seven years.
The Effects of Child Pornography on Children
Child pornography is one of the roots of evilest character development and it has severe impacts on children:
Viewing pornography can be a confusing and frightening experience for children and young people and can harm their development. Children and young people may not understand the context of the material they are viewing and may be confused by the autonomous sexual arousal they are experiencing. This may lead to confusion about their sexual feelings and desires and may result in them engaging in sexual acts with other children or engaging in risky sexual behavior as adolescents.
Adults who view adult pornography must take steps to ensure that children do not have access to it, such as blocking written material, deleting browsers, and using technical means to block access. Children mustn't have access to adult pornography or other sexually explicit material at home.
Anyone can experience sexual re-victimization, regardless of age. While it is most commonly seen among those who have survived childhood abuse, individuals who have experienced sexual abuse as adults can also be re-victimized. The reason for the high recurrence rate of repeat experiences is still being investigated, but various factors may contribute to it. These factors can include age, mental health, personality, support networks, and the severity or length of violence. Everyone's experience is unique, and a 2020 study suggests that the psychological impact of initial trauma might contribute to re-victimization at any age.
Long-term Effects on Development and Well-Being:
Childhood sexual abuse can have a wide range of negative effects on mental health, including depression, guilt, shame, self-blame, eating disorders, somatic concerns, anxiety, dissociative patterns, repression, denial, sexual problems, and relationship problems.
Depression is one of the most common long-term symptoms among survivors, and survivors may have difficulty externalizing the abuse, leading to negative self-thoughts and feelings of worthlessness. This can also lead to avoiding others, as they may believe they have nothing to offer.
Survivors may also experience guilt, shame, and self-blame, as they may take personal responsibility for the abuse. When the perpetrator is an esteemed and trusted adult, it can be difficult for children to view them in a negative light, leading to difficulty in understanding that the abuse was not their fault. This can lead to internalizing negative messages about themselves and can result in self-destructive behaviors and suicidal ideation. Survivors of child sexual abuse need to seek help, whether it be counseling, therapy, or other forms of support, to help them heal and cope with the trauma they have experienced.
Efforts to Combat Child Pornography in India
The Government is always active in generating awareness of child pornography through campaigns and co-operations:
Role of Law Enforcement in India:
Section 317 of the Indian penal Code (IPC) deals with the crime of exposing or abandoning a child under the age of 12 years. The section states that any parent or other person who exposes or leaves a child under the age of 12 years with the intention of abandonment shall be punished with imprisonment for a term that may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to a fine. This provision is in place to protect children from being abandoned or exposed to danger by their parents or other caregivers.
Activism and Awareness Campaigns:
The Me Too movement is a social movement that aims to raise awareness about the prevalence and impact of sexual violence and to bring about change to end it. The movement is led by survivors and their allies and is driven by their courage and determination to speak out and demand accountability for sexual harassment and assault.
The movement aims to provide support and validation to survivors of sexual violence and to give people a sense of the scale of the problem. The aim is also to encourage survivors to come forward and create a culture where sexual harassment and assault are not tolerated and are taken seriously.
In 1992, India ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) which sets out the civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights of children. In 2005, India also ratified the Protocols to the UNCRC, which address the participation of children in armed conflict and the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography. Additionally, India has ratified the International
Conventions on Civil and Political Rights and economic, social, and cultural rights, provide further protections for the rights of children. India has also ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict and the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography. India also signed the SAARC Convention on Prevention and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prosecution which aims to prevent and combat trafficking in women and children and provide for the prosecution of offenders.
There is a continued need for efforts to combat child pornography in India, as the illegal trade continues to grow with advancements in technology and the internet. Child protection is of utmost importance as children are vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse.
Child pornography not only harms the children involved in its creation but also fuels demand for child sexual abuse material, leading to more children being victimized. Protecting children from such abuse is crucial for their physical, mental, and emotional well-being and their overall development as individuals.