Combating child sexual exploitation and abuse online (OCSEA).

  • With the growing popularity of social media platforms, the use of education apps, and the shift to online classes, children are more likely to be exposed to harmful content. As a result, ensuring children’s welfare and safety online is more important than ever.
  • Online child sexual abuse and exploitation include activities such as the creation 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.
  • Psychological harm to children: This poses a serious risk to children who are suffering from psychological stress such as anxiety, trauma, or depression.
  • Changes in behavior: It can also lead to behavioral changes such as drug and alcohol abuse, self-harm, and decreased academic motivation.
  • Adult problems: The consequences of online sexual abuse in childhood are far-reaching and may well extend into adulthood, causing issues with intimacy and affecting interpersonal relationships.

Difficulties in combating online abuse

  • Anonymity and encryption: The rapidly changing digital landscape and advancements in information technology have given rise to better encryption services and the dark web, which provide offenders with a safe cover of anonymity, allowing them to engage in child sexual abuse.
  • The response time is still slow: Needless to say, the danger and complexity of online abuse has increased at an alarming rate and must be addressed as soon as possible. Furthermore, due to the pervasiveness of the internet and online interaction, almost all cases of child sexual abuse have a virtual component. As a result, when developing strategies to combat online child sexual exploitation and abuse, a broad perspective and a systems-level approach should be taken into account (OCSEA).
  • Police capacity: In general, the main administrative challenges when dealing with OCSEA are limited law enforcement capacities, gaps in the legislative framework, and a lack of awareness and urgency about the issue.
  • Workforce understaffing: The workforce in relevant social welfare organizations is understaffed. Close collaboration between non-traditional partners from industry, government ministries dealing with technological communication, and law enforcement is urgently needed. Provisions should be made to prevent future incidents and to protect victims or survivors.

India’s OCSEA-fighting efforts

  • Improved mechanisms and new tools: In recent years, India has made significant efforts to address the rising tide of OCSEA cases. It has not only improved the reporting mechanism for online crimes against children, but it has also created new tools and software to control and remove the presence of CSAM on social media and other platforms.
  • Sensitizing schools and increasing capacity: Efforts have also been made to sensitize schools and increase the technological capacity of law enforcement agencies in order to deal with the issue more effectively. Although this four-pronged model has yielded some promising results, it has been surpassed by the country’s exponential increase in cases.

What are the possible steps?

  • Evaluating and improving governance systems: It is critical to assess and improve the effectiveness of cross-sectoral governance mechanisms established to systematize the national response to child sexual abuse material.
  • Cases must be expedited: The massive backlog of OCSEA cases in India must also be expedited. In terms of prevention, institutionalizing the collection of national-level CSAM data can also help to strengthen children’s online security. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology’s recent Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2022, may provide an opportunity to meet this need.
  • Stakeholders have a clear mandate and responsibility: Clear mandates should be developed further, as should a logical framework of roles and responsibilities for all relevant stakeholders within standard operating procedures for investigation. Continuous dialogue between industry, government and other collaborators is required, with a clear agenda and division of responsibilities.
  • Enforcement agency training: Industry partners, particularly the IT industry, must be provided with appropriate training and awareness of the magnitude of OCSEA, as well as appropriate toolkits and guidance. Promoting a systematic and consistent approach to training the judiciary and prosecution on CSAM, centered on child-sensitive protocols, can be beneficial.
  • Victim restitution: In the same vein, comprehensive restitution or reparations for victims are equally important and must be handled by a specialized workforce.
  • Parental and community education: Basic online safety measures, parental support initiatives, and community awareness training can be integrated into existing education programs to prevent violence and sensitize the most vulnerable audiences. Existing systems must be evaluated by monitoring and documenting their overall effectiveness and accessibility, as well as assessing relevant hotlines and portals (to see if they are linked to relevant referral systems) and analyzing context-specific reasons for limitations.
  • Ethical media coverage: A concerted effort must be made to support ethical and informed media coverage of relevant cases.

@the end

To create a safer cyberspace, various institutions across the country must work together. The assessment of current OCSEA response systems and reporting mechanisms, stricter enforcement of prevention laws, and adequate resources to sustain these efforts are the highest priorities. The ultimate goal must be to ensure long-term safeguards for online platforms that allow minors to navigate safely and disrupt offenders’ actions.

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