The mixed bag of instructions also tell parents to occasionally peruse their children’s private chats, and inspect their bags and cupboards without the child’s knowledge.

Dont let girls take selfies with boys monitor contacts Kottayam police to parentsFlickr CC-BY-SA 2.0/Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose
news Internet safety Sunday, December 09, 2018 - 17:30

With cases of cyber related crime on the rise in Kerala, the Kottayam police, under the direction of District Police Chief Hari Sankar IPS, have put out a set of instructions for parents and children in an apparent attempt to raise awareness on online safety for children. The instructions, shared on the Kottayam Police official Facebook page, come in the aftermath of two cases that shook Kerala in the past week: A ring of nearly 20 men were arrested and named in a case of gang rape of a 16-year-old school girl, and the other of a 24-year-old man named Jinsu, who allegedly raped 30 young women he befriended on Facebook and later blackmailed them using their photos and videos.

The Kottayam police’s post also mentions cases of girls being duped into being robbed of their gold ornaments and chains through so-called friendships made with fraudsters online. However, while issued with good intentions, the list of 16 instructions suggested by the Kottayam police to ensure children’s safety does seem to present a mixed bag.

It states that parents should under no circumstances give students and children mobile phones and that in emergencies or for urgent matters, the children should use their parents’ mobile phones.

The police instruct parents not to let their children discover the passwords to access their mobile phone. While requesting parents not to allow children to use the alarms on their mobile phones to wake up in the morning, they ask them to instead invest a small amount in buying an alarm clock. It also tells parents not to encourage the practice of sending and receiving study notes via WhatsApp. 

The Kottayam police also recommend that pictures of girls never be uploaded on WhatsApp or Facebook, and instructs girls to never take selfies with boys.

In a digression from online safety of children to general safe practices, it tells parents to lock the doors of their houses at night and keep the keys safe. It also advises parents not to have arguments or fights in front of their children. 

Amongst the 16 instructions are also directions to parents to make sure their children do not start Facebook or Instagram accounts without their knowledge, and even if they have one, parents should inspect their friend lists regularly, to ensure the children are not adding unknown people.

According to the police, parents should occasionally peruse their children’s private chats on online messengers services, and inspect their bags and cupboards without the child’s knowledge. It further instructs parents of girl children to make sure that the numbers saved under the names of female friends actually belong to girls, and not boys under a false name. 

While the notice asks parents to inform girls that those who ask them for nude pictures have bad intentions, the police also encourage parents to have open conversations with their children about safe touch and unsafe touch, and about sexual relations between men and women.

A mixed bag

Some of the instructions included in the notice seem reasonable - like the direction to lock house doors at night, to encourage children not to befriend strangers online or create secret Facebook or Instagram accounts, to have open and informative conversations with children about safe and unsafe touch and about sex and sexual relations. However, other instructions listed by the Kottayam police ring patently of patriarchy, and a blatant disregard for the privacy of children.

While the line between ensuring safety and respecting privacy of children can at times be thin, actions such as snooping through their private chats and personal belongings feel like a gross violation that could alienate them from their parents even more. It also promotes mistrust between parents and their children, which would restrict channels of communication between parents and children.

Perhaps a more sensible and fair approach in these changing times would be to have continual, frank and open conversations with children about their everyday lives and relationships. In addition to teaching them about sex and safety, as recommended by the Kottayam Police, parents could also engage in practices that will instil in children the firm belief that they can trust their parents with whatever issues or problems they may have without the fear of repercussion or being reprimanded.

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