According to CISCO, there will be an estimated 829 million internet users in India by 2021.
The internet provides immense opportunities to its users, but at the same time, there are numerous corresponding risks. While our country progresses rapidly towards a Digital India, it is imperative to ensure that effective legal mechanisms for the safety and security of internet users are in place.
A cybercrime is an offence carried out anonymously by any person under the garb of the internet. Technology allows perpetrators to act anonymously and provides them access to a large, vulnerable population including children. Teenagers around the world addicted to social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are easy targets for the perpetrators of cybercrime. While children are often oblivious to the dangers associated with the cyberspace, parents find it difficult to protect them from cybercrimes as they lack awareness of the legal remedies available under national and international law.
Online offences against children are covered by a series of legislation –
1. The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, is an essential piece of legislation that specifically addresses sexual offences committed against children. POCSO criminalises cybercrime against children, including child pornography, cyber stalking, cyber bullying, defamation, grooming, hacking, identity theft, online child trafficking, online extortion, sexual harassment, violation of privacy.
2. The Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000, is the primary law dealing with cybercrimes against children and adults in India. It is supplemented by the various rules that have been framed under it.
3. The India Penal Code (IPC), 1860, protects individuals, including children, from all crimes. The IPC covers certain cyber crimes that are variants of traditional crimes such as theft, cheating, forgery, mischief and defamation. In certain cases, these legislative provisions overlap and an accused may be charged with a series of offences under the relevant provisions of IPC, POCSO and the IT Act. If an accused is convicted under all three acts, they are punished under the provision that provides the greater punishment.
While these laws are in place to combat cybercrime against children, awareness amongst key stakeholders, including parents, teachers, police and policymakers, is seriously lacking. It is essential that any effort by the government to strengthen online child safety go hand in hand with knowledge of the law, robust implementation and ultimately, comprehensive legislative review.
To highlight the importance of this issue, iProbono took part in a series of consultations with stakeholders from the child rights sector. The result is a ‘Legal Toolkit: Child Victims of Cybercrime’. It is the first initiative taken by the NCPCR (a statutory body established under the Commissions for Protection of Child Rights [CPCR] Act, 2005) to address the existing knowledge gap on cybercrimes. The Toolkit demystifies our understanding of cybercrime. It provides simplified definitions of 12 criminal offences, including cyberbullying, sexting and online child trafficking amongst others, and analyses the applicable legislation. It attempts to clarify the law surrounding the issue by providing precedents, case studies and analysis as examples of the current methods incorporated by the investigating forces to handle cybercrime cases.
The Toolkit is a reference point for all stakeholders working in the field of child protection – including the police, investigators, social workers and others working with online child sexual abuse survivors. Although the purpose of this publication was not to highlight the existing gaps in the law, it does reveal that there are only a few successful cases and convictions of cybercrime.
We share this Toolkit with you to use and share with your network of stakeholders working with vulnerable children. Together, we can ensure that the rights of vulnerable children are protected.
iProbono is actively working to protect children from sexual abuse in India. If you have worked on this issue or are currently working on this issue, please reach out to us. We are always eager to learn from your experiences and share our strategies with you.