Multiple groups circulating child sexual abuse material on Telegram and WhatsApp were identified and people were tracked down in various districts.

Child sex abuse videos shared widely amid pandemic 41 including techies held in Kerala
news Crime Tuesday, October 06, 2020 - 10:46

The Kerala police held statewide raids and on Monday arrested 41 persons who were allegedly viewing and circulating child sexual abuse material through the internet. The massive crack down against online child sex offenders in Kerala is part of Operation P Hunt, who are accused of digitally circulating, storing, viewing and sharing child sexual abuse material.

One reason for the sudden raids and arrests of online child sex offenders in Kerala, is the spike in such material circulating in the state during the pandemic, says a press release by the Kerala Police Countering Child Sexual Exploitation (CCSE) team. For over two years now, this team has analysed virtual trends and their resultant problems. And during the pandemic, some of the trends they were concerning. 

“We decided to crack down on these offenders, many of whom worked in the IT field. Hence the CCSE team, under the Cyberdome which deals with cybersecurity, collected IP addresses of these users with specialised software. Users sharing such pictures on social media handles were also traced. Tips or reports from the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children or NCMEC (through the National Crime Records Bureau) were also analyzed,” Manoj Abraham IPS, ADGP [HQ] & Nodal Officer of Kerala Police Cyberdome told TNM.

Upon perusing the data, multiple groups circulating child sexual abuse material on Telegram and WhatsApp were identified. They include ‘Chakka’, ‘Bigmelon’, ‘Uppum Mulakum’, ‘Gold Garden’, ‘Devatha’, ‘Incest Lovers’, ‘Ammayi’, ‘Ayalkkari’, ‘Poothumbikal’, ‘Roleplay Sughavasam’, ‘Corona Life’ and over 400 odd members of these groups were identified. Data collected and analysed also revealed 326 such locations in the state, spread across districts. 

Based on this information Inspector General of Police Crimes, Shri S Sreejith IPS, IGP South Zone, Harshita Attaluri and IGP North Zone Ashok Yadav, who in turn mobilized 120 teams under the District Police Chiefs or DCPs. These teams also included members of cyber cells and technical experts. 

The simultaneous raids conducted on October 4 under the supervision of the District Superintendents of police led to the seizure of 285 devices. The police also registered 268 cases under the Information Technology (IT) Act and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act post the raids. Among the gadgets seized were mobile phones, modems, hard disks, memory cards, laptops, computers etc. with CSAM content mostly, of children between 6 to 15 years of age. Moreover, many maong the 41 persons who were nabbed who had possession of this content were tech savvy IT professionals who were using encrypted handles to upload the material. Some of them are also suspected child traffickers, based on the chats retrieved from their devices.  

Based on Monday’s arrests, Malappuram had the highest number of cases registered- 47. This is followed by Thiruvananthapuram rural - 27, Palakkad 26 and Ernakulam rural - 21. Palakkad also had the most number of accused arrested - 9. 

 This is however not the first major bust in Kerala against online child sex offenders. In 2015, the police  arrested five people in connection with a paedophilic Facebook page after tracking their online activities for over a month. The page was titled ‘Kochu Sundharikal’ (Little beauties) was run by Ummer, a man living in Saudi Arabia, who was arrested after he landed in Kerala to get married. The four others who were arrested had posted vicious comments on the comment threads, some of which amounted to incitement of sexual assault. 

In December 2017, a secret Telegram group called ‘Poompata’ which consisted of Child Sexual predators was busted by the Kerala police and a man named Sharaf Ali was found to be administering many of the groups where there was demand for child sexual abuse material.

As per the current law, section 67 B of the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000, makes viewing, distributing or storing of any child sexual abuse material content is a criminal offense attracting up to 5 years imprisonment and a fine of upto Rs 10 lakh.

According to the CCSE:

  1. “There is still heightened online activity seen from Kerala by those seeking child abuse material on the net, and particularly the dark net,” the press release says, adding that the traffic on the platform used by the Kerala police to detect Child Sexual Abuse Material or CSAM has increased during the last 6 months. Many of the users are also repeat offenders who have promoted CSAM on the darknet more than once, the release adds. 
  2. In the darknet chat rooms, there is even more demand for child sexual abuse material and particularly so from Kerala, the release says. 
  3. More WhatsApp and Telegram chat groups have popped up where CSAM is circulated. The accused, fearing detection, also watch the video and delete them using specialized software, says the statement. They also format their phones every three days. 
  4. Across India, use of malware to activate webcams of victims or to steal information of children have also been reported. 
  5. With restrictions in houses and a lockdown, several obscene pictures and videos inside houses and flats have been uploaded, which indicate that they were shot in Kerala. 
  6. Movement restrictions and a lockdown has led to increase of child abuse. Abuse of kids locked up in their house is uploaded and shared on the darknet.  

CCSE 

The Counter Child Sexual Exploitation team of Kerala police was formed to prevent online child abuse material. The team became fully functional from January. The unit also works in collaboration with “INTERPOL-Crimes against Children Unit and the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC) and has tied up with many international organisations such as We Protect, India Child Protection Fund (ICPF), Cyber Peace Foundation etc.

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