Blog Sunday, May 03, 2015 - 05:30
Should parents embrace social networks as a way of keeping family and friends scattered across the world constantly updated about the growing years of young children? Or should they shield their little ones as much as they can from the possibility of strangers prying on these photos that are meant for only a select few? In the wake of the discovery of several pages populated by paedophiles on social networks like Facebook, this question has assumed a new urgency.    Activist Sunitha Krishnan had brought to my attention a group of youngsters from Kerala - Beena and others - who were running a Facebook page 'Sexually Frustrated Mallu'. They were trying to track down those who managed and actively contributed to two paedophile Facebook pages called ‘Kochu Sundarikal’ and ‘Hot angels’, pages that are a congregation point for paedophiles. I went through several posts on these pages. Every nauseating comment triggered panic for I too have a toddler at home.    Earlier story- Den of paedophiles: Kerala couple gets Facebook page using pictures of girls shut down.   Read ahead only if you think you are ready for it.   The comments were from accounts of men talking about how they want to undress these kids. Some describe their bodies in the most disgustingly lustful ways. They talk about having sex with the kids, playing with their private parts.   On the face of it, there is nothing sleazy or objectionable about the images - the photos were the kind you and I would post of our babies, perhaps stolen from profiles of proud parents. I should know, for I have put up similar pictures of my kid on Facebook.    These seemingly innocent photographs spurred my search on - On one of the groups, I found a picture of a small boy, around two years old, sitting on a chair without clothes. This was one of the most popular posts for the page users, with dozens of comments discussing what they would like to do with these boys sexually.    Most comments were from men describing in lurid detail how they wanted to undress these kids. The perversion and paedophilic descriptions by some participants were nauseating - some comments still haunt and disturb me as I write this piece. I'm not talking of one or two stray comments, but hundreds of them. One of those pages had 8,000 likes and has been on Facebook for a year.   The sad part is despite repeated efforts by the youngsters from Kerala and dogged efforts to trace the administrators and participants on such pages, the Cyber Cell in Thiruvananthapuram showed little interest in tracking down these closet paedophiles. The complainants were told that the page admin was based out of Saudi Arabia, not within the jurisdiction of the state police. The police flagged the page with Facebook officials, who promptly shut the page down. But Beena and others wanted to trace those men, and it is not possible anymore. Within a week, the same group found another such page. This page, too, was shut down.   It is definitely not possible for police to trace hundreds who post comments on a Facebook page, but the Kerala police have the dubious record of filing cases against almost thousand people who had commented on a story about alleged corruption by the Kochi mayor.   In the face of such disinterested and lackadaisical approach from the police, we sought to find out if there are any legal provisions that could be used to nail these men who were openly discussing their paedophilic fetishes on social networks.    And it turns out that they do know the law or its shortcomings too. Vakul Sharma, a Supreme Court lawyer I spoke to told me that though there was no nudity, but yes, social networking platforms like Facebook do have a responsibility.    That these pages displayed no nudity, and are moderated and run in vernacular languages were the ruse used to escape monitoring or surveillance, but that doesn't absolve Facebook and others of overseeing them.  But is Facebook legally obliged to take action against such pages? No. Facebook’s user policy does state that images with nudity and explicit sexual intercourse are prohibited.     In such a frightening scenario, knowing your child's photographs, even normal, fully clothed ones, could be viewed and misused by strangers, is a social blackout the only option? I don’t believe so. But, here's a set of precautions that parents can take.    - The biggest NO for images of children's images: Never post a picture of a child in the nude, regardless of the age.   - Set strong filters: Create groups to ensure that you have a modicum of control over who sees your personal information and photographs. Narrowing down the accessibility of those who can view your child’s image could prevent it from getting copied by random predators.    - But remember that is still not adequate prevention. The National Child Abuse study of 2007 by the Ministry of Child Welfare and Development found that 50% of child abusers in India were known to children, people who were in their circle of trust and were responsible for them.  In short, you cannot be absolutely certain that a paedophile is not on your list of Facebook friends. Parents should simply refrain from posting updates and pictures on a daily basis, as this could entice someone within your circle.   - Never give away exact locations, school names and other such details. Studies have proven that there is a direct relation between people viewing child porn online, and those who chose to actually abuse. Giving away exact details of your kids, especially teenagers, is a bad idea.   - If your teenage children are on Facebook, make them understand the importance of not tagging locations and stricter privacy settings.   - The reason I mentioned that blackout is not an option is because, even if all of us stop uploading  pictures, it isn’t tough for predators to source pictures. Vakul Sharma says he has seen cases of paedophile groups using pictures they have clicked of children at parks or in their schools. As he says it isn't easy to stop people from taking pictures of young girls playing on swings with their skirts fluttering or dress askew.    And with 66A gone, how does one combat online abuse? It is an offense under Section 67B (b) of the Information Technology Act if one ‘creates text or digital images, collects, seeks, browses, downloads, advertises, promotes, exchanges or distributes material in any electronic form depicting children in obscene or indecent or sexually explicit manner’.    In a world where we are creating a digital footprint for our children, even without their consent, it has become impossible to curb online abuse. But as pro-active citizens like Beena and SFM page, we need to keep an eye out. I would say don’t stop with just getting the pages blocked, but when possible, file a case.   Vidya Reddy of Chennai-based NGO, Tulir-Centre for the Prevention and healing of child sexual abuse (CPHCSA) , which addresses child sex abuse perhaps summed it up best - She says, “This should be a wake-up call for all of us as parents. There are people interested in our children sexually. Social media is only a reflection of society.”   Vidya is right. These people are around us, and while we shouldn’t let paranoia take over our lives, we have to be very careful.   Read: Parents speak out on Facebook etiquette when it comes to sharing details of kids    Attackers who chopped Kerala professor's hand convicted, but did we collectively fail him?  

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