There has been a surge in the online demand and dissemination of child abuse imagery in India since last year after lockdowns were imposed to contain Covid-19 and confined people to their homes, Indian activists and police officials said.
India is home to a large number of sexually abused children.
In 2020, the National Crime Records Bureau registered 43,000 offences under the stringent Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act – which translates to an average of one case every 12 minutes.
Activists, however, estimate the real numbers to be much higher, given the stigma and general reluctance to talk about the topic.
Although the publication, transmission and possession of child sexual abuse material(CSAM) is banned under Indian law, it is still widespread. And the problem has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
In the southern state of Kerala, the increase has been almost 200% to 300% compared to before the pandemic, said Manoj Abraham, head of the state’s Police Cyberdome, a high-tech facility in India’s cyber security infrastructure.
Mr. Abraham says the pandemic has also led to the rise in locally produced content, which often goes unreported as the abusers are family members or people known to the victims.
“You can see in videos that they are in a house. So, the dangerous part is that somebody in the house, in close proximity, is exploiting the girl or boy,” he said.
It is no different in other states.
A report by India Child Protection Fund suggests an alarmingly high demand for CSAM in as many as 100 Indian cities, including the capital, Delhi, and financial hub Mumbai. The organisation tracked online content in India between December 2019 and June 2020.
It reported that the user base for CSAM in India was more than 90% male, 1% female and the rest were unidentified.
Most individuals were interested in “generic CSAM” such as “school sex videos” and “teen sex”.
Many used VPNs to conceal locations, circumvent government regulations and platform security.
Experts say the reasons are not hard to find. Long insulated lives have led to longer hours of online presence among children as well as paedophiles.
As a result, more children are being groomed by paedophiles, which has also led to an increase in the distribution and consumption of CSAM.
“Any person in a lockdown-like situation where there is loneliness, isolation, threat of uncertainty and perhaps increased irritability, is more likely to turn to sexuality as a means of coping, especially if there are no other healthy alternatives available,” says Dr. Vasudeo Paralikar, head of psychiatry at the KEM research institute in the western city of Pune.
In April 2020, human rights experts from the United Nations had warned that “travel restrictions and the increase in online users will likely lead to a significant spike in sexual grooming online by paedophiles and predators, live streaming of child sexual abuse and the production and distribution of child sexual abuse material”.
Also last year, Cyber Tipline of the US-based National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, received 21.7 million reports of images, videos and other files containing suspected child sexual abuse material and other incident-related content from around the world.
This was a 28% rise in reports from 2019. And India was high up on the list. (Source: BBC)