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The menace of child porn

India Today Group Editor-in-Chief talks about how alarmingly India has emerged as the hub of sexual exploitation of children on the web, in the March 2, 2020 edition of the India Today Magazine.

VARIETY  |   4-minute read  |   21-02-2020

There are four activities that societies have never been able to successfully ban or control: gambling, alcohol/ drugs, prostitution and pornography. Among these, pornography was, for a long time, the most susceptible to control. No longer. india today has tracked the growth of pornography since our cover dated December 1978. Since the arrival of the Internet, it has become almost impossible to control its proliferation. Few recent inventions have changed our lives as radically as the Internet has. Its reach and ability to network billions of humans, inform, illuminate and entertain, is as lifechanging as the development and harnessing of electric power in the 19th century.

But as is the case with all technology, there is a dark side to the Internet too. It has given sociopaths corners to hide and play out their reprehensible obsessions. One of the darkest of such crimes is child pornography— the trafficking of pictures and videos depicting the abuse of minors. Major social media platforms have been battling this menace. In the first six months of 2019, Twitter took down 244,188 unique accounts for sharing child pornography images. Last January, WhatsApp blocked 130,000 accounts for sharing child pornography. Instagram removed a staggering 1.2 million child porn images in just six months last year.

India Today March 2 cover, The Menace of Child Porn. 

Regrettably, India has the dubious distinction of topping the list of child porn consumers. The US-based National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children says that India is the source of more online child pornography than any other country. The agency estimates that Indian users have uploaded 25,000 such images in the past five months alone. Delhi had the most uploads, followed by Maharashtra, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

Indian government agencies, too, have highlighted the worrying rise in the consumption of child pornography. The National Crime Records Bureau’s latest report on crime figures for 2018 listed 781 cases of creating or storing child porn. This was more than double the cases from the previous year. Odisha, for some reason, has seen the largest spike in such cases—333 in 2018, up from only eight in 2017. Last year, 377 websites showing child pornography were blocked in India.

This is only the tip of what is clearly a large and terrifying iceberg. The dark web — a part of the Internet that search engines cannot access — offers a haven for such criminal activity and is beyond the pale of law enforcement agencies.

Child pornography seems to be a grossly under-reported crime in India. Unlike in the US, social media firms in India are not obliged to detail child pornography cases to a central authority. The absence of any dedicated government organisation or agency to track instances of child porn keeps the public from being aware of how big the threat really is. Tracking the menace is time, and resource, intensive. A joint US-South Korea crackdown on a child porn website, for instance, took over two years to complete. Transactions made in cryptocurrency, onion routing, encrypted chats and email pose significant challenges for dark web investigators.

Our cover story, ‘The Dark Web of Child Porn’, written by Associate Editor Sonali Acharjee, documents this hidden menace and the gaps in the government’s response to it. The lack of sex education in Indian schools, she finds, is worrying. A child who knows about his or her body will also be aware of what is right or wrong. Many children now fall prey to dangerous new trends like ‘cyber grooming’—where online predators ensnare unsuspecting children.

A few schools have begun teaching digital hygiene, but it is still fairly new and confined to private schools in Tier 1 cities. And, of course, much pornography consumption and targeting of children takes place in Tier 2 towns too. Parents, who are the first responders, need to be more aware of who their children are in touch with online and what they are watching. They also need to support one another and share best practices for how to sensitise their children towards digital threats. Technology is a double-edged sword. Education and awareness can help blunt its harmful edge.

Anybody caught indulging in this repugnant behaviour—whether in consuming or in purveying child pornography—in my view, deserves the severest of punishments. They should be made an example of. Nothing can be worse than sexually abusing children.

(India Today Editor-in-Chief's note for the cover story, The Menace of Child Porn, for March 2, 2020)

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