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The Internet Predators

Predators, through various applications will easily pry into websites your kids interact.

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In these times of everything online, do we know what our kids see and hear on the Internet or who they meet, or what they share? Technology is a friend only if you let it be. It can be your worst enemy too. Inappropriate content, cyberbullying, and online predators are all real. Predators, through various applications will easily pry into websites your kids interact.

They pose as a child or teen looking to make a new friend and cajole the child to exchange personal information, such as address and phone number. The harm these actions cause can unfortunately be long lasting.

Though the Children Act 2004 protects the interests of children and young people in all considerations of welfare and safeguarding, it is neither here nor there. The Information Technology Act, 2000, and Indian Penal Code, 1860 also deal with cybercrime in the country. Multiple sections of the IT Act related to digital data, electronic devices, and cybercrimes were amended in 2008. The Act provides for a penalty for unauthorised access to data and damage computers or computer networks through virus, vide section 43, Compensation for the failure of data protection vide section 43A, Punishment extending up to 3 years or fine which may extend to Rs. 1 Lakh for identity theft vide section 66C, Punishment extending up to 3 years or fine which may extend to Rs. 2 Lakh for violation of privacy vide section 66E, Punishment for publishing, browsing or transmitting child pornography in electronic form vide section 67B.  Evan as Indian Penal Code, 1860, through sections 354A and 354D provide punishment for cyberbullying and cyberstalking against women, they have no specific provisions for cybercrime against children.

Though, cybercrimes against children are categorised into 4 areas like child trafficking, cyberbullying, pornography, and identity theft, application of appropriate provisions of the law and concluding the arguments into a punishable offence can be vexing.

To the credit of the government, the Ministry of Home Affairs launched a scheme ‘Cyber Crime Prevention against Women and Children (CCPWC)’ under which an online National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal, ‘’ was launched in September 2018 to enable the public to report cases pertaining to child pornography/child sexual abuse material, rape/gang rape images or sexually explicit content. However, this only empowers the public to lodge complaints anonymously or through the “Report and track” option, necessitating more amendments in our laws.

Like the federal law in US, we too need a Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) which helps protect kids younger than 13 when they're online. It's designed to keep anyone from getting a child's personal information such as a name, address, phone number, or Social Security number without a parent knowing about it and agreeing to it first.

The EdTech companies must be encouraged to develop effective IT Tools to control the kids' access to adult material and help protect them from Internet predators. Some Internet service providers (ISPs) may provide parent-control options but hardly explored by parents. Parents in vulnerable households must get software that helps block access to sites and restricts personal information from being sent online and use programs that monitor and track online activity. That said, why can’t we get involved in Kids' Online Activities? It is always better to block objectionable material and teach kids safe and responsible online behaviour.

Past one year, every one of us have been living online. We working from home online, our children learning from home online, teachers teaching online, we trading for goods online and everything else that comes to mind going online. It must be an irony of times that though, everyone was bound home, not many would honestly agree that they interacted with each other in spite of time and means? Let alone a friendly monitoring of what the children were up to on their laptop screens or their smart phones. Some children did learn dancing, spent time birdwatching, playing some musical instrument or learning one, or indulged in arts and crafts. We are also aware that many others secretly surfed unwanted content and may have been maimed, that would take a long time to heal. Though the Acts and the available means may provide some relief, do they really provide succour for the damage to the psyche of a child? Now that the pandemic seems to be on an extended mission of its own, can we have a list of Do’s and Don’ts for children and parents to follow?

For a beginning, can the children start following the family rules, and those set by the Internet service provider? Can there be a discipline not to ever post or trade personal pictures, or reveal personal information, such as address, phone number, or school name or location? Never share passwords other than with parents, never respond to threatening mails, messages or posts? Never agree to meet physically anyone met online without parent approval and/or supervision.

As parents, have we ever looked for warning signs of our children being targeted by an online predator? A child may be spending long hours online, especially at night, may receive phone calls from people he may not know. May even receive unsolicited gifts arriving in the mail. A child may suddenly turn off the computer or withdraw from family life and may be reluctant to discuss online activities when questioned. It is extremely necessary to talk to the kids. A line of communication must always be kept open. A little time together with the kids will do wonders.

The computer itself may be kept in a common area where it can be watched and monitored. Further, parents must bookmark kids' favourite sites for easy access, check credit cards and phone bills for unfamiliar transactions. Above all, children must be taken seriously if they report an uncomfortable online exchange. One must find time to read understand the Ministry of Home Affairs released Handbook for Adolescents/Students on Cyber Safety and participate in the cyber-Crime awareness campaign available on twitter through twitter handle (@CyberDost).

If the children can be difficult to handle, how do we monitor them when they get older? Can we monitor their online activity, be it on their laptops or smart phones? They may cite their right to privacy which may be healthy and normal. They may see in Internet, a safe "virtual" environment for exploring a little freedom. What however is needed, is to discuss the online experiences, the dangers of interacting with strangers online and reminding them that people online don't always tell the truth. Taking an active role in their Internet activities helps them without being exposed to the potential dangers.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Internet Predators kids websites cybersecurity

Dr. S.S. Mantha

Former Chairman of AICTE, Dr. Mantha is an eminent academician. At present, he is Chancellor KL University and Adjunct Professor, NIAS, Bangalore.

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