Opinion | Protect our children from the dangers of the Internet
In April 2018, Madhya Pradesh police busted a WhatsApp child sexual abuse and pornography group. The group had a Kuwaiti administrator and about 250 members from 28 countries, including India and Pakistan.
Originally known as “Kids Sex Video Only”, the name of the group was changed to “Child Porn Only.” Many members, as old as 50, were sharing videos of boys and girls aged six to eight years. One of the four local offenders arrested by the police was a 17-year-old boy of class 12.
This is just one case, and there are many children who are losing their childhoods to online child sexual abuse. The internet, a technology originally invented to share and converge information and knowledge, is now infested with pictures and videos of innocent children who have fallen prey to the vicious trap of cybersex traffickers and paedophiles.
In 2017, The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) detected 78,589 individual URLs showing images of child abuse. Five countries that were responsible for hosting 87% of this material are: Netherlands, United States, Canada, France and Russia. However, this does not tell anything about where this material was being produced or viewed. For instance, it is quite possible that offenders could be viewing material from France, hosted on a server in the Netherlands, showing images/videos of child sexual abuse in South Asia. This is because the internet has collapsed national boundaries.
This illicit business requires low set up costs, entails easy dissemination, offers ease of payment and ever-increasing profit streams. Some studies claim that rape and extreme torture videos of infants as young as 18 months are being traded on fully encrypted platforms for anywhere between $7000-8000. While this is a heinous crime on the ground, it further accentuates manifold online. Today, children are being lured and enticed on popular online chat sites and then taken to virtual private rooms for making sexually explicit performances on the webcam. Cybersex trafficking of children is proliferating as one of the most brutal forms of modern day slavery. Paedophiles and pimps lure children and their parents striking deals promoting sexual exploitation of children under the garb of travel and tourism.
This is now a full-fledged industry with annual revenues in excess of $8 billion itself which does not include exponential profits that data service providers across the globe are booking. Tracking buyers and sellers is virtually impossible, as crypto-currencies like Bitcoin, among others, are being increasingly preferred for making payments for child abuse material online.
As a deterrent, in 2018, IWF removed 105,047 webpages showing sexual abuse of children. However, blocking of child porn websites are just the low-hanging fruit. Checking and curbing the data service providers and individuals from producing, storing and disseminating such content is absolutely necessary. It is important to regulate the internet and weed out such content. Therefore, the elimination of online child sexual abuse is a gargantuan task that requires a structured and unified response at the highest global levels.
It is for this reason I have been rallying support for a legally binding International Convention against Online Sexual Abuse of Children. The unequivocal demand for such a convention came out at the culmination of the Laureates and Leaders for Children Summit in Jordan, in 2018.
Over the last 12 months, global leaders and organisations that have come out in support for such a convention are Pope Francis, German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, Mauricio Macri, President of Argentina, Juan Carlos Varela, President of Panama, His Excellency Prince Albert II King of Monaco, Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway, Sheikha Moza of Qatar, Members of the US Congress and leading civil society organisations including International Trade Union Confederation and Education International among others. We are together working on this so that this legislation sees the light of the day.
While ILO Convention 182; UNCRC; the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children and a few other legislations do talk about the crime, they are not legally binding. The new International Convention against Online Sexual Abuse of Children must ensure a convergence of policy and efforts at national, bilateral and international levels. We need uniformity in standards and efficiency of global law enforcement response.
Every picture, every scene, every sequence of online child sexual abuse material is a crime scene in itself. Moral outrage is not enough. We need personal commitment, will power and societal engagement if we are to make the internet safe for our children.
Kailash Satyarthi is an internationally acclaimed child rights activist and Nobel Peace Laureate 2014
The views expressed are personal