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Bullies of the virtual world

Common forms of crime and violence against children are finding new forms of expression in the online world. The damage done to victims may often be amplified in such cases, finds a survey

health and fitness Updated: Dec 18, 2016 11:58 IST
Rhythma Kaul
Rhythma Kaul
Hindustan Times
Crime against children,cyber bullying,cyber crime
A recent survey found two in three children are bullied, of which 36% are bullied online by people they know or by those unknown to them(Shutterstock)

Parents of 16-year-old class 11 student, Aayush*, could see their only child sinking into depression, but they were unable to pinpoint the cause. After failing to get to the crux of the problem by themsleves, the parents— Lalit* and Shweta Singh* decided to seek help of a professional.

“He was too afraid to talk when he was brought to me. I had to be extremely patient with him and counsel him a great deal before he started opening up,” says Dr Samir Parikh, director, department of mental health and behavioural sciences, Fortis Healthcare.

One of his friend’s cousins was posting embarrassing material on his profile on a popular social networking site. However, he was too afraid of approaching any authority figure for the fear of being reprimanded. After a few counselling sessions, Aayush realised what he had been going through for months was actually cyber-bullying.

“Through therapy the child was able to achieve emotional expression and there regain his lost confidence. Additionally, he was also psycho-educated about cyber-bullying,” says Dr Parikh.

The Singhs spoke with the parents of the bully and the matter was sorted for Aayush.

However, Aayush’s case is not a case in isolation. Cyber-bullying is one of the most common forms of bullying that children experience these days, finds a survey among close to 1000 school-goers in Delhi-NCR.

The survey that was conducted by Dr Parikh and his team from Fortis Healthcare, found two in three children are bullied, of which 36% are bullied online by people they know or by those unknown to them.

“Of all the children spoken to for the survey, 66% students admitted they were bullied, and 70% students don’t report an incident to teachers if they see someone being bullied, which speaks a lot about the magnitude of problem,” says Dr Parikh.

Common Forms of Bullying
  • Cyber- Through the internet
  • Verbal- Commenting on looks, name calling, teasing
  • Non-verbal- physically harassing by hitting or pushing

Currently there are about 400 million Internet users in India and the number is growing with access to mobile Internet. There are 306 million mobile Internet users in India with 219 million from urban India and 87 million from rural India. The majority of these users are youths.

According to some conservative estimates, India has about 134 million children with mobile phones, but what they lack is digital literacy and online safety measures that exposes them to cyber bullying, sexual predation and other crimes.

In September this year, UNICEF launched the Child Online Protection in India Report that highlighted the current risks and threats faced by children when using the internet and social media.

Read:How cyber-bullying wreck young minds

The report said that offline forms of crime and violence against children were finding new forms of expression in the online world and their effects on children were amplified. Being able to stay anonymous online and impersonate others may embolden people into offensive and criminal acts and lower the deterrent potential of laws.

Cyber-crimes against children have many forms including sex-texting, online grooming, production and distribution of child harmful material, cyber bullying, etc. However, to date cyber-crimes against children in India are under-reported and have been receiving very little attention.

“It is a growing problem but hasn’t received due attention yet. A few years ago we formulated guidelines for prevention of child abuse under Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights Act that had a chapter on online abuse,” says Dr Rajesh Sagar, professor, department of psychiatry at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi.

“Most people don’t even know what to do in such cases. If not dealt with in time, it could have far-reaching impact on children that could even affect their adulthood.”

Current forms of child online abuse and exploitation
  • Cyberbullying: emotional harassment, defamation and social exposure, intimidation, social exclusion
  • Online sexual abuse: distribution of sexually explicit and violent content, sexual harassment
  • Online sexual exploitation: production, distribution and use of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) (child pornography), “sextortion”, “revenge pornography”
  • Cyber extremism: ideological indoctrination and recruitment, threats of extreme violence
  • Online commercial fraud: identity theft, phishing, hacking, financial fraud
  • Habit formation and online enticement to illegal behaviours: access to alcohol, cheating, plagiarism, gambling, drug trafficking, sexting and self-exposure
  • Grooming: preparing a child, significant adults and the environment for sexual abuse and exploitation or ideological manipulation

There is an alarming gap in terms of prevention policies, skills training and support systems to deal with bullying.

“Those who have a solid support system tend to come out of the trauma rather quickly. However, it’s not just the victim who requires therapy, even the perpetrators need professional help,” says Dr Sagar.

From counselling to art therapy, psychiatrists use different mechanisms to break the ice, and make children feel comfortable.

“Most get better with counselling and therapy but there is a small percentage that would require anti-anxiety or anti-depression drugs as they exhibit co-morbid symptoms.”

Read:Young people feel cyberbullying more likely to happen to someone else

First Published: Dec 17, 2016 23:12 IST