New Delhi: The country's first-ever hotline to curb sexual abuse of children through the internet and to remove child pornographic content online is set to be unveiled next week.
Aarambh Initiative, a network of organisations and individuals working on child protection in the country, has collaborated with UK-based Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), which is an industry watchdog and is the most successful hotline in the world at removing child pornography.
The hotline in India will be hosted on aarambhindia.org and will enable users to report child sexual abuse images and videos in a safe and anonymous environment. While the hotline will initially be in English and Hindi, in the future it will also be available in as many as 22 regional languages.
The purpose of the hotline is three fold -- to block and ultimately remove offensive content, to trace the perpetrator and report him to the law enforcement agencies of his country, and to reach out to the child victim and rehabilitate him/her as and when required.
Once an individual comes across an image or a video on the internet, which shows sexual abuse of children, he or she can report the URL (web address) to the hotline.
A complaint made on the hotline remains confidential and is accessed by an expert team of IWF based in the UK. This team picks the offensive URL and adds it to its blocking list thus disrupting any further access to the content until it has been removed.
Once the content is removed, it is assigned a unique identification number in order to ensure that it is not uploaded in the future.
This expert team also decides the criminality and severity of the content and determines the location from where it was uploaded and where it was being hosted. Thereafter, it contacts the host as well the law enforcement agency of the country from where it was uploaded.
Back home, activists say that almost all cases of child sexual abuse involve technology despite the slow pace of internet proliferation.
"According to NCRB data, sexual offences online are second only to illegal gain and fraud in cybercrimes. Last year, around 96 cases were reported under sections concerning pornography and children. The year before, the number was just 40. This shows a 140 per cent increase."
"This despite the fact that internet penetration is only 20 per cent and the quality of the internet connection isn't optimum either. As internet connectivity improves, the issue is bound to see a staggering rise if preventive measures are not put in place," says Siddharth Pillai, Co-Director and Communications Manager, Aarambh Initiative.
This tool can also be helpful in bridging the gap police teams often encounter while dealing with crimes committed through internet. The global nature of such crimes, where a perpetrator could be victimising a child from a different country, often is a hindrance to investigators and can now be overcome through this hotline.
"The hotline could be and should be integrated with all the existing services offered by the government for preventing child sexual abuse. A complaint pertaining to child pornographic content can be easily redirected to us in order to ensure that the image doesn't go viral."
"Similarly, this can come in handy for the cyber crime cell as well. When a host is outside India the police department can do very little. But now they can use our hotline to report those images that can then be taken off immediately," according to Aarambh Initiative Co-Founder Uma Subramanian.
Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) Act, 2012 safeguards children from sexual abuse, harassment and pornography.
According to the law, anyone using a child in any form of media for the purpose of sexual gratification can be sent to jail for not less than 5 years. If images or videos show sexual assault they could even invite rigorous life imprisonment.