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Threats Faced by Children in Cyberspace

2024 FEB 12

Mains   > Social justice   >   Human Resources   >   Women and Child issues

Syllabus: GS 2 > Social justice   >   Women and Child issues

IN NEWS:

  • Recently, during a U.S. Senate hearing, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg issued an apology to families whose children were affected by online predators. This apology came in response to concerns raised about the harm caused by social media platforms owned by Meta, such as Facebook and Instagram.
  •  The hearing, which also included CEOs from TikTok, Snapchat, and X (formerly Twitter), covered a range of issues related to child safety online, including online sexual exploitation and the spread of harmful content.

FACTORS THAT CONTRIBUTED TO CHILDREN'S INCREASED EXPOSURE TO CYBERSPACE:

Description: https://ilearncana.com/iLearnCana_%40dm!N/kc/ckeditor/kcfinder/upload/images/image-20230120184720-1.png

 

 

THREATS FACED BY CHILDREN IN CYBERSPACE:

  • Cyberbullying and Harassment
    • Online platforms become arenas for bullying, harassment, and abuse, leaving children vulnerable to psychological trauma. In India, the rise in internet access among children has led to an increase in cyberbullying.
    • For instance, a study by Microsoft in 2020 reported that India had a relatively high incidence of online bullying, affecting around 53% of children aged 8-17.
    • This can lead to severe psychological effects, including depression, anxiety, and in extreme cases, suicidal thoughts.
    • Children are at risk of encountering graphic sexual content, violence, and other inappropriate material online, which can be more impactful in immersive virtual environments.
    • For instance, recently, there has been a disturbing incident reported in the news regarding a 16-year-old girl in the UK who was virtually "gang-raped" in a metaverse game.
  • Online child sexual abuse and exploitation:
    • Reports from across the world reveal a massive increase in the child sexual abuse material (CSAM) now available online. Online child sexual abuse, involving CSAM, live assaults, and exploitation, causes significant harm to minors, leading to psychological issues, behavioral problems, and long-lasting effects into adulthood.
    • The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) says that according to the Cyber Tipline 2022 statistics, of the 32 million reports received about child sexual abuse material, 5.6 million reports were uploaded by perpetrators based in India.
  • Exposure to Inappropriate Content:
  • Posting Private Information:
    • Children may unknowingly share personal information online, such as photos or home addresses, risking their and their families' privacy and safety.
  • Misinformation Vulnerability
    • Children, in their crucial cognitive development stages, are especially susceptible to online misinformation and disinformation, with generative AI producing text and images that are often indistinguishable from real content.
    • The persuasive nature of AI-generated disinformation and the impact of interacting with human-like chatbots on young minds are areas of concern and debate.
  • Negative impacts on behaviour as a result of increased internet exposure: 
    • The COVID-19-induced lockdown and online education have negatively impacted more than 60 percent of children in the country.
    • While at least two behavioural changes were reported in 60 percent of children, almost 40 percent of them were found to have more than two behavioural changes, like absent-mindedness and unjustified absence from school (both 26 percent), followed by increased smartphone usage in school (20.9 percent). These behavioural changes would severely affect the learning, cognitive, and social skills of the children.
  • Online Scams:
    • While older adults are often thought of as the main targets of online scams, children are very vulnerable to them as well.
    • Common scams include emails claiming you’ve won large sums of money and requesting payments to receive said “winnings,” websites offering something for a low price but never explaining what it is exactly; and essentially anything that’s extremely cheap or free.
  • Accidentally Downloading Malware:
    • Cyber criminals often trick people into downloading malware. Phishing is one such trick, but there are others—such as convincing victims to download malware masquerading as games—that can be especially beguiling to children.
    • Malvertising: A recent phenomenon on the internet is a deliberate circulation of e-books that can be downloaded for free by children. These free e-books are available on diverse topics of academic interests to children but may contain malware and infect their systems without any signs of warning that the systems have been hacked or certain data has been extracted from their system by a cyber-criminal.

GOVERNMENT INITIATIVES:

  • National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal (Cyber Crime Prevention against Women & Children, CCPWC):
    • The Ministry of Home Affairs is implementing a scheme, namely Cyber Crime Prevention against women and Children (CCPWC) under Nirbhaya Fund.
    • The portal allows individuals to report online crimes against women and children, including cyberbullying, harassment, and exploitation.
  • Information Security Education & Awareness (ISEA):
    • Meity through the program, Information Security Education & Awareness (ISEA), has been creating awareness among users including women and children highlighting the importance of digital safety while using Internet.
    • dedicated website for information security awareness (https://www.infosecawareness.in) provides relevant awareness material.
  • POCSO Act, 2012:
    • The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012 was amended in 2019 to make punishment more stringent.
    • In the amendment the definition of child pornography has been included under Section 2(da).
    • Section 14 of the Act was amended for more strict punishment for using child for pornographic purposes.
    • Additionally, Section 15 saw amendments introducing harsher penalties for storing, possessing, transmitting, propagating, displaying, or distributing pornographic material involving a child, except for lawful reporting or evidential purposes in court
  • Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000:
    • Section 67B of the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000 provides stringent punishment for publishing, transmitting or viewing child sexual abuse material online.
    • Also, IT Act, 2000 provides a legal framework for addressing all types of prevailing cybercrimes as reported in the country.
  • Child Helpline (Childline India Foundation)
    • Childline India Foundation operates a toll-free helpline (1098) for children in distress, including those facing online abuse or exploitation.
  • National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR)
    • NCPCR works to ensure the implementation of laws and policies related to child protection, including online safety measures.

CHALLENGES:

  • Better encryption services and the dark net:
    • The rapidly evolving digital landscape and advances in information technology have given rise to better encryption services and the dark net, which provide a safe cover of anonymity to offenders, allowing them to engage in child sexual abuse.

The dark net, also known as the dark web, is a component of the greater deep web. The dark net refers to websites that are specifically used for nefarious reasons.

For extra reading on dark net: https://ilearncana.com/details/Dark-Net/42

  • Underreporting of Abuse:
    • The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) of India reported a significant increase in child sexual abuse material (CSAM) cases, but NGOs believe the actual numbers are much higher due to underreporting.
  • Global Jurisdictional Issues
    • The internet's global reach allows offenders to act across borders, complicating law enforcement efforts due to differing international legal frameworks and cooperation levels.
  • Privacy Concerns vs. Safety Measures: 
    • The controversy over India's IT Rules 2021 illustrates this tension, as they require platforms to trace message origins, potentially impacting end-to-end encryption and privacy. Critics, like WhatsApp suing the government, argue these rules compromise user privacy, highlighting the challenge of safeguarding children online while respecting privacy.
  • Administrative challenges:
    • The main administrative challenges when dealing with online child sexual exploitation and abuse are
  • Limited law enforcement capacities
  • Gaps in the legislative framework.
  • Lack of awareness and urgency around the issue.
  • For instance, the lack of a unified global standard for reporting and handling CSAM complicates cooperation. India’s participation in global forums such as INTERPOL’s initiatives for child protection is a step towards harmonizing efforts, but national protocols remain in development.

Way forward:

  • Combating Online Exploitation: Essential National Focus Areas:
    • According to the Model National Response, a joint review launched by UNICEF and WeProtect Global Alliance, there are six key domains for a country to focus on to effectively address online child sexual exploitation and other related threats.
      • Policy and governance
      • Criminal justice
      • Industry
      • Society and culture
      • Research
      • Victim support
  • Collaborative Efforts: 
    • There is a need for collaboration between tech companies, governments, parents, and educators to ensure that the digital world is a safe space for children, mirroring the protections offered in the real world.
    • Also, establish a knowledge base on the use of new technologies and related risks, by bringing together researchers engaged in online child safety.
  • Awareness generation:
    • Ensure that children, parents, and teachers are aware of how to stay safe online and encourage children to become involved in creating a safer online environment.
    • Furthermore, basic online safety measuresparental support initiatives, and community awareness training can be integrated into existing education programmes to sensitise children.
  • Safety by Design: 
    • Tech companies are urged to prioritize child safety in the design of their platforms, incorporating features and policies that protect young users from harm.
  • Regulation and Oversight: 
    • Governments are called upon to review and enhance regulatory frameworks to ensure they adequately protect children's rights online and address harmful content and behaviors.
  • Data Protection: 
    • Implementing the highest standards of data protection for children's data, especially in new virtual environments and the metaverse, is critical.

PRACTICE QUESTION:

Q. “The need to secure children’s welfare and safety online is more urgent than ever”. Discuss. (10 marks, 150 words)