This article is written by Sneha Singh.
“Recent statistics indicate that children around the globe are spending time online more than ever. This has developed a lot of room for online child exploitation. We have observed that there has been an increase in online grooming cases.” the IJM said, quoting Guillermo Galarza of the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children based in Virginia, U.S.
The year 2020 brought with it a danger to mankind in the form of COVID- 19. An infectious disease caused by the spread of a virus which was unknown for the whole world until its outbreak began in Wuhan city of China and slowly it engulfed the whole world. There is no vaccine to cure the disease and the only way to keep oneself safe was by social distancing and to implement it lockdown was imposed by most of the countries. The companies are closed. Schools are closed. But the world can’t come to a standstill so people started working from their homes and online classes started for children from K.G. to the ones in college. Amit Sahu who is a senior cyber consultant says that the internet is a double-edged sword for kids. It is necessary to stay within the boundaries of safe limits else one can be exposed to the harms of various cyber offences. The various risks to which students are exposed:
There are various risks to which the students are exposed to be it mentally, physically or psychologically. A report by the UNESCO says that around 1.5 billion students in 188 countries were unable to attend school due to COVID-19, as on April 8 which represents around 91% of the world’s student population. The pandemic for many students means limited or no education. It also generates a fear of falling behind their peers and the children also miss the sense of stability and normalcy provided by the schools. Due to this pandemic, the exposure of children to online sources proliferated. The online classes instead of proving itself to be a boon rather somehow turned out to be a curse to some students. Many children who were not very active on online interactions are also forced to use online sources for studies where they are prone to various predators and they can easily harass these young minds.
Long hours of online classes make it mandatory for the students to stick to their laptops, tablets, cell phones for a long duration. The various risks can be listed as follows-
An unprecedented rise in screen time- Due to long hours of online classes students are forced to use various gadgets for long hours which harms their eyes and it is hazardous for their health.
Economic problems- Everyone in the world is not privileged to have enough money to buy as many smartphones as the number of children they have so that they can attend the classes and if having the gadgets is not the problem then the internet pack is not affordable by everyone. Due to the lockdown, many have lost their source of income when people are suffering from hunger. How can we expect them to buy internet packs?
Network issues- The network issue is faced by students in the remote areas and due to poor connectivity they miss their classes and lag behind other students.
Data privacy and attack of cybercriminals- The online classes also lead to data privacy consideration for children.
What is cybercrime?
Cybercrime is an offence where the internet and the various gadgets like mobile phone, laptop etc. are used to commit the crime. Cybercrimes are related to the internet and are incomplete without reference to the net. The recent amendment in the IT Act added a good number of crimes to the already existing list of crimes when it used the term computer-related offences. According to a report which was published by the International Labour Organisation, Cyber-trafficking, Grooming, Sextortion, Sexting etc offences are some of the new norms of crime against children.
Sexting- It is a kind of offence in which the child is forced either by boyfriend\girlfriend or any other person whom the child knows to send his\her picture which is later on distributed by that person without the child’s consent.
Grooming- In this offence the offender tries to build a relationship with the child either by online resources or by contacting the child in person for a sexual favour. This may happen when there is lack of trust and care by the parent towards the kid so they search for that trust and care in the outside world where people can easily exploit them and use them by their fake care.
Live online child sexual abuse: This offence has been on the rise in which there is sexual exploitation of children through prostitution.
Cyber trafficking- Cyber basically means something related to computer or computer technology (via the internet) and it is similar to human trafficking only the difference being in this computer technology is used to commit the offence.
School closures and strict measures mean families are confined to their homes and they are relying on technology for the online classes as well as to keep the children entertained but as we all are aware all the children don’t have the same level of skill to keep themselves safe while online. The more time the students spend on virtual platforms the more vulnerable they become to online sexual exploitation and grooming, the increased and unstructured time online may expose children to potentially harmful and violent content as well as a greater risk of cyberbullying. The personal data of children like their names, home address and other personal details may be sensitive for the students and can harm the child and his family.
During this period many incidents took place which acted as a threat against the security of children online. One such was in Kolkata where some unknown person hacked the online lecture and started using abusive language against children, threatened them and shared some obscene videos during class as a result of which the class was suspended. A report by Indian Child Protection Fund (ICPF) claims that since the lockdown was enforced there has been an escalation in the demand of child pornography material or child sexual abuse material. And the various cases which are reported worldwide amongst them the one’s exploiting the children online are mostly the ones who are related to them or know about them like neighbours, family friends etc. So the situation requires close monitoring by the parents to keep their kids safe.
Ways to tackle the problems
The suggested solution for the various issues which are mentioned above can be as follows-
- If the parents are more careful in dealing with their kids and closely monitor the activities of their children online they can protect their kids from online threats. The parents many times are hesitant to report against cybercrime, they think that they would be ostracized by society. It is requisite for the parents to give up their fear and spend more time with their kids so that they can easily trust them and tell them if they are facing any problem. The parents can also use parental control for the children and in this way, they can protect their child from using websites which contain contents inappropriate for children.
- The children should be taught about the risks they are facing when they are online and how they can keep themselves safe from those predators. They should be told how someone can hide his true identity and easily exploit them, how their photos which they share online can be used against them even sometimes people whom they consider as their well-wishers can also harm them and the only way to protect is by staying cautious. The kids should refrain from sharing their physical location on various sites and many times some permission which certain apps require are absurd so they should avoid downloading such applications. Like for example some gaming application asking permission to access their contacts it does not fit well. So before permitting to access location and other information it should be read once carefully.
- To cater to the health of students the classes should be held with intermittent breaks so that their eyes can have rest for some time. Regarding the problem of finance with the parents, the educational institutes should either reduce the fees or provide for the wifi money so that each student can attend the lecture.
- The government can play its role of protecting children by placing a requirement of age verification on sites which are unsuitable for the younger kids. They can ban the already registered sex offenders from accessing the internet especially those websites that are frequently used by children. The penal consequences against such offences relating to children can also be increased so that offenders are afraid before committing any crime.
- The danger of cybercrime has increased in this situation when there is a sense of confinement in homes and which leads to people spending more time online and this has acted as an opportunity for the cybercriminals to create disruption. To stop such persons from hacking the classes what teachers can do is activating the waiting room feature which helps them to take control. Not allowing the students to join the class before them. Disabling screen sharing from the students who are non- hosts. The teachers can also lock the virtual class from outsiders. When schools or colleges are sending any link it is very necessary that its legitimacy is checked because a hacker can also send mail from the name of the organization having his email id at the back. Also regarding the links which are received they should be checked as the hacker may slightly change the link which may even not be noticeable or even an unsafe URL may be added to it. In this way, a hacker can easily control one’s system and steal data. The attachments which are being received should also be checked for viruses to stop your system from getting affected. One should also not give remote access to a device to anyone else. The person whom one gives can control the device through an application named Anydesk. Taking these small steps can help to save oneself from hackers.
- To report against cybercrime:
(a) One can visit the National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal which is an initiative of the Government to complain about cybercrime. The type of cybercrime to be reported is divided into two categories one being crime related to women/children another one is any other cyber offence. To report a crime related to women/children there are two ways to register-
To report anonymously- In this, no private data would be revealed and only complete information regarding the complaint is to be provided for the police authorities to take adequate action.
To report and track- Here the complainant has to provide her name, email address, phone no. along with the complete information regarding the complaint.
The idea of online classes during this period of COVID-19 is definitely a good one but as it is seen that there are many dangers attached with it so it is necessary to take all the precautions which are required. The students who are very young for them it is the responsibility of the teachers, the Government, the parents to keep them safe while online and also to educate them so that they can gain the best of benefits from it and can smoothly attend the classes.
“Under the shadow of COVID-19, the lives of millions of children have temporarily shrunk to just their homes and their screens. We must help them navigate this new reality”
-UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore
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