State Home Minister Anil Deshmukh Monday said 133 FIRs have been registered and 46 people arrested by the Maharashtra Police in connection with cases related to child pornography since the COVID-19 induced lockdown was enforced on March 25.
His comments came days after India Child Protection Fund (ICPF) noted an alarming rise in the demand for child pornography material, also referred to as ‘Child Sexual Abuse Material’ (CSAM), on the internet during the period.
“The spike in child porn consumption during the lockdown period shows the huge presence of paedophiles, child rapists and child pornography addicts online. This makes the internet — which is used for everything from playing indoor games, socialising and online classes by children — extremely unsafe for them (children) because of the threat of cyber trafficking, grooming (the act of befriending a child, and sometimes the family, to lower the child’s inhibitions with the objective of sexual abuse), sextortion, sexting, and live-streaming of child sexual abuse,” Deshmukh told the media.
While warning parents to remain alert when children surf the internet, the minister said Maharashtra cyber police has been asked to keep a strict vigil on use of child pornography during the lockdown period. He added in a majority of the 133 FIRs, registered in the connection, accused were charged under section 292 (prurient creation of lascivious images), Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and IT act.
Action against people involved in child pornography received a boost last year after India tied up with the US-based private non-profit organisation National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).
According to officials, several of the 133 FIRs were registered by the Maharashtra Police after tipline reports were sent by the centre.
NCMEC receives tip-offs through citizens, service providers and uses software to track child pornography content online that is shared with law enforcement agencies in the form of ‘tipline reports’ — a tipline report provides details like IP address of the device used to surf child pornography. Till January this year, India received 25,000 such reports for cases of CSAM across the country.
Last week, ICPF, which was set up in January 2020 by Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi’s son Bhuvan Ribhu, released a report that said: “The nationwide lockdown to contain the COVID-19 outbreak has exposed a dark underbelly of our society — millions of paedophiles, child rapists and child pornography addicts have increased their activities online, making the internet extremely unsafe for our children”.