Child online protection is an imperative

High time policymakers woke up to the looming menace

pratap

Pratap Vikram Singh | July 7, 2011



With the increasing penetration of the internet connectivity in India, the question of protecting children from exposure to harmful web content and web predators is becoming important here too.  To this end, governments and international organisations have adopted a mechanism called child online protection (COP) to ensure cyber-security for children and prevent them from cyber-bullying.  COP involves creation of a healthy e-ecology wherein the child can safely access the internet and its valuable resources without fear of falling prey to unscrupulous predators in cyberspace.

Worldwide statistics are an eye opener. In early 1998, as per International Telecommunication Union (ITU), there were 200 million people using the internet. In 2008, the figure for people with online presence sore to 1.5 billion. Currently, more than 90 percent of the teens and young adults use the internet. Over 60 percent of children and teenager are regular with online chat and there is a possibility of one in five children being targeted by a predator or pedophile each year.

While COP is being considered quite seriously by the stakeholders – the government, the educational institutions, the IT industry, international organisations and civil society – in many of the technologically advanced countries; the situation in a country like India is not even remotely the same.  Strangely, the stakeholders here are yet to even begin a debate in this direction.

Though the IT Act, 2000, and IT (Amendment) Act, 2008, are the bulwark in securing the cyberspace and ensuring mechanisms to penalise and punish the offenders for misusing information and communication technologies, the laws have no clauses and sub-clauses to tackle issues related with COP in a comprehensive manner.

However, it would be unfair to not appreciate the clauses, which deals with some of the aspects of COP in India. Section 67B of Chapter 11 of IT (Amendment) Act 2008 takes serious cognizance of publishing or transmitting of material depicting children in sexually explicit act in electronic form.  Also, Section 67A of Chapter 11 relates to publishing or transmitting of material containing sexually explicit act etc. in electronic form. The laws have respective provisions for punishing the offender, as per the laid down procedures.

Given the pace at which information and communication technology is getting cheaper and making inroads in to the teen segment of the population, it becomes an imperative on the part of the government and all the stakeholders to develop and execute a much more comprehensive mechanism through which child’s experience on the internet could be made safer.  Since COP is one of unique challenge of its kind, it calls for a collaborative working between all the stakeholders.

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