Nearly 90% of children abused online are too afraid to speak out, keeping parents in the dark, say experts, putting the onus on schools to spread awareness on the need to report such incidents. At a panel discussion in the city on Monday, involving Unicef representatives, child psychologists and police, experts tracked the worrying rise in children being victims and perpetrators of cyber bullying.
Although the National Crime Records Bureau doesn’t have a separate category for cybercrimes against children, studies done in the past reveal a murky and apathetic virtual world. A 2014 survey found that one in three children and teenagers had experienced the pain of being bullied online. The same report said 45% of the children surveyed in Chennai admitted to have cyber bullied others, commenting on their intelligence level or appearance.
“These numbers are worrying, especially because we know there are a lot more cases out there,” said Job Zacharia, chief, Unicef chapter for Chennai and Kerala. “In some instances of abuse, the child may not even know he or she is being exploited,” he said. Even if they do, they are afraid to confide in their parents. Cybercrimes against children have many forms, including sexting, cyberbullying and production and distribution of sexually explicit and violent content involving kids.
Officials from the cyber crime cell of CB-CID said in some instances children confide in parents, some of whom approach authorities. “But they want the entire investigation to be a hush-hush affair. They don’t even want us to register a case because we would have to call the child to the court then,” said S Rajeswari, superintendent of police, CB-CID.
She said although there were strict laws such as Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act and sections of the IT Act to try these cases, families were reluctant to report. “Educational institutions need to step in and spread awareness. They are already realising the importance of the issue, and a lot is being done,” said Rajeswari. Child psychologists present at the discussion said parents also could protect children from being exposed online by keeping tabs on their online activity and having more open conversations with them. “Parents need to remind their children that there is a world outside and help is a hand’ s reach away,” said Dr S Ramya, consultant psychiatrist.