- With the increasing popularity of social media platforms, utilization of education apps and shift to online classes, children these days have a much higher chance of being exposed to harmful content. Hence, the need to secure children’s welfare and safety online is more urgent than ever.
What is Online child sexual abuse and exploitation (OCSEA)?
- Online child sexual abuse and exploitation refers to activities such as the production and distribution of child sexual abuse material (CSAM), live streaming sexual assault of minors, obtaining sexually explicit material, exhibitionism and meeting the abuser in-person.
Consequences of OCSEA
- OCSEA poses serious harm to children who experience psychological stress such as anxiety, trauma, and depression.
- It can also lead to behavioral changes like drug and alcohol abuse, self-harm, and lower motivation for academics.
- Consequences of online sexual abuse in childhood may well extend into adulthood — bringing forth issues with intimacy and affecting interpersonal relationships.
Challenges in dealing with OCSEA
- Better encryption services and the dark net, provide a safe cover of anonymity to offenders, allowing them to engage in child sexual abuse.
- Administrative challenges when dealing with OCSEA are limited law enforcement capacities, gaps in legislative framework, and a lack of awareness and urgency around the issue.
- The workforce in relevant social welfare organizations is understaffed.
- The government has not only improved the mechanism for reporting online offences against children, but it has also developed new tools and software to control and remove the presence of CSAM on social media and other platforms.
- Efforts have also been made to sensitise schools and boost the technological capacity of law enforcement agencies to further deal with the issue.
- Although this four-pronged model has shown some promising results, it is surpassed by the exponential rise in cases across the country.
- 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 this issue — policy and governance, criminal justice, industry, society and culture, research and victim support.
- Keeping these in mind, there are a number of ways India can better its response to child sexual abuse material.
- It is imperative to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of cross-sectoral governance mechanisms that are set up to systematise the national response to child sexual abuse material.
- The huge backlog for cases of OCSEA in India must also be fast-tracked.
- Development of clear mandates and creation of a logical framework of roles and duties of all relevant stakeholders within standard operating procedures for investigation has to be done.
- Continuous dialogue between the industry, government and other collaborators, with a distinct agenda and division of responsibilities is necessary.
- Industry partners, in particular the IT industry, must be provided with suitable training and awareness of the magnitude of OCSEA, along with proper toolkits and guidance.
- Promoting a systematic and constant approach to training the judiciary and prosecution on CSAM can prove beneficial.
- Comprehensive remedies or reparations for victims are just as important and need to be handled by a specialized workforce.
- Provisions should be in place to prevent future cases and safeguard the victims or survivors.
- Basic online safety measures, parental support initiatives and community awareness training can be integrated into existing education programmes for violence prevention, and sensitizing the most vulnerable audience.
- Dedicated effort must be made to aid ethical and informed media reporting on relevant cases.
- A collaborative effort of various institutions across the nation is required to build a safer cyberspace.
- The highest priority is assessment of current OCSEA response systems and reporting mechanisms, stricter implementation of prevention laws, and adequate resources to sustain these efforts.
- The end goal must be to ensure long-term safeguards for online platforms that allow secure navigation for minors and a disruption of the actions of offenders.