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Why We Need To Look Beyond The Law To Protect Children From Pornography

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By Yukti Lamba:

legal steps to ban child pornography
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The Supreme Court’s decision to block pornographic sites, with a strong focus on child pornography, made me think and research further on this. These sites were blocked by the Department of Telecommunication, which relied on Section 79(3)(b) of the IT Act. It obliges the intermediaries to exercise “due diligence” and states that intermediaries would not be entitled to exemption from liability if they failed to remove access to objectionable material on receiving actual knowledge or being notified by the government.

Children are precious, but they are also the most vulnerable! Having said that, I would like to talk about the issue at hand in some detail given that child pornography is a highly unspoken and neglected subject.

Pornography has existed for centuries. There has been a debate about whether pornography is socially or morally acceptable but as it involves adults, there is no law that is broken. But when children are involved in sexual exploitation, pornography is explicitly regarded to be a heinous crime in multiple nations. Pornography is the depiction of sexual acts to arouse the audience, but child pornography propagates visual imagery of underage persons being exploited in ‘explicit sexual activity’ (actual, graphic or simulated sexual intercourse, including anal and oral; bestiality; masturbation; sadistic or masochistic abuse; or lewd exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of the minor).

Another word for child pornography is, “child sexual abuse imagery”. Child sexual abuse images and videos are documented with the purpose of being shared for others to watch and in such way victimise the child in over and over again.

Child pornography is a real and pressing problem that exists on local, national and international levels. It is, therefore, important that with the help of educational campaigns and by imparting training to parents, teachers, students, civil servants, private sectors and law enforcement personnel on a national level we start looking for solutions to such a barbaric problem. Child pornography existed before the creation of the internet, and it is impossible to say whether the advent of the internet has led to the demand for child pornography or vice versa. The occurrence of sexual acts involving children is not a new phenomenon as such bestial acts have been termed criminal since the middle ages.

According to the website for End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT), child pornography records a crime as it’s committed, and the children in the pictures are subjected to various horrific sexual acts like beatings, burnings and tortuous sexual acts. No pornographic picture of a child has ever been produced without the suffering of a child.

Several legislations have been made by our government to reduce pornography such as the Information Technology Act, 2000 which makes publication and transmission of child porn a crime. In Section 67(A) of Information Technology Act, 2008 publishing and transmitting images in electronic form was declared illegal leading to imprisonment. Section 66(E) and 67(B) of the same act, punishes those who intentionally capture, publish or transmit such imagery without consent and create, depict or advertise such images in an indecent manner leading to a jail term of up to five years and deals with aggravated offence.

Child Protection Act, 2012 provides protection to children from sexual assault, harassment and pornography. In this Act, Section 13 makes use of children for pornographic purposes a criminal offence that can lead to being jailed for up to five years and subsequent convictions up to seven years besides the fine amount mentioned in Section 14(1). National Policy for Children, 2013 focuses on survival, health, nutrition, education, and protection of every child. In National Charter for Children, 2003 Article 9(a) &10(a) of the charter focuses on strict measures to ensure that children are not involved in illegal activities like trafficking, prostitution, pornography or violence.

Child pornography has severe negative effects, both long term and short term. Each child reacts differently depending on the abuse one faced, and the child’s personality but no child escapes the harm such exploitation causes. Survivors of pornography face different trials as their image is circulated amongst hundreds or thousands of strangers and the material stays long after the act has occurred. The effects are progressive and even addictive for many. It doesn’t mean that every person exposed to pornography becomes a sexual deviant or sex addict. But it increasingly becomes necessary to study pornography with special focus to child pornography as it is harming children around the globe in multiple ways.

Why is it important to curb child porn? Is it doing any harm to children? The effects of child pornography on the survivor are enormous. Besides psychosomatic changes in the form of sleep disorders and depression, children who are sexually abused thus, experience numerous symptoms like physical illnesses, anti-social behaviour, emotional withdrawal, mood swings, depression, fear, and anxiety. Those children who are exploited or sexually abused are at a high risk of becoming perpetrators or abusers.

Child pornography brings about various changes in values, attitudes, development and also gives rise to unwanted health issues. Many children are affected by an identity crisis and are unable to accept themselves after a period of time of time due to societal exclusion. Children are in danger of being desensitised and believe that pornographic activity is “normal” for children. Child porn has an impact on various aspects of life and overall well-being of the children involved in it. Due to physical torture, he/she is unable to overcome the fears even after the crime is committed.

Immediate relatives, family and friends of the survivor have to make an effort to provide a good environment for the child to grow. Survivors of abuse face difficulty in establishing healthy relationships, have to go through unplanned pregnancies, sexual illness and sometimes even sexual addiction occur.

Today, pornography is used as a tool of entertainment, and this affects the child involved in the porn ring. The child accepts pornography as part of the society and doesn’t see anything wrong with it. Child pornography as a part of socialisation seems to be a difficult proposition to accept as it is a by-product of child sexual abuse. Child sexual abuse is seen as a grave issue whereas pornography is just a part of it.

Efforts have been made both at national and international levels to ban child pornography. United Nations (2010) called for the universal ratification of two optional protocols to the Convention on the rights of sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography and on the protection of children in armed conflict. The optional protocol is a tool that will tear the invisibility surrounding the sale of children, child pornography and effective protection of children from all kinds of violence. UNICEF has been working to prevent and respond to sexual violence by engaging different government sectors like justice, social welfare, education and civil society. It is working to strengthen governments in child protection systems at various levels. Thus, the Indian government needs to be a part of such covenants to protect its children and take serious action against those engaged in crimes against them. Various efforts have been made internationally over a period. A rather prominent one was when Facebook, Google and Twitter joined hands against child porn in collaboration with Britain’s Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) to implement a new system that would help to detect and block images of child pornography online.

Statistics showed that Indians spend an average eight minutes and 22 seconds watching porn, per visit as compared to the world average of eight minutes and 56 seconds with an average page visit of 7.32 while the world averaged with 7.6 pages. A 2014 Hindu report mentioned that in 2012-2013, there had been 100% increase in cases of publication and transmission of obscene material including child pornography using electronic media. Statistics also revealed that a total of 1,203 cases were reported in 2013 against the 589 of 2012.

In February 2016, the Supreme Court said child pornography cannot be justified in the name of freedom of speech and expression and the Centre must take necessary steps to curb it. Stating that there was no room to carry on such ‘experiments’ in the name of liberty or freedom of speech and expression. The Centre was advised to file an affidavit to suggest ways and means to curb child pornography as innocent children should not be the prey of such situations. The bench comprising of Justice Dipak Misra and Shiva Kirti Singh will be handling the case. The dialogues started after the Supreme Court Women Lawyers Association filed an intervention application to ban child pornography.

NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau) reveals that 90% of sexual abuse cases occurred within homes and was committed by a person known to the victim. Such cases are also strikingly less frequently reported as compared to the number of cases reported where the perpetrator is a stranger. The reason might be because such crimes are much harder to report for a child where the family members are themselves the culprits. Besides, a lot of times the family doesn’t know how to go about the process or don’t have any trust in the legal system of the country.

Despite so many horrific effects of child pornography on children, why are the government and the society as a whole not taking serious steps that uproots the issue from its roots? Is it that people are shy to talk about pornography (which, I’m sure, they are) or is child pornography still not seen as a serious issue? Though children have been given rights of their own by our constitution and are seen as equal citizens of the country still child rights, remain a theoretical concept and needs to be reconsidered. Society and law pay ‘lip service’ to issues concerning children. It is important to develop an understanding of the problem so that laws are made and implemented to curb child pornography and the rights are given to children are actually practised. Current legal and social responses are not able to address the real issues concerning children as they are focussed more on preventing harm and future risks that reaching out to survivors who have suffered the real harm of child pornography.

It is a challenge when each day countless children are victimised and exposed to dangers hampering their growth. They suffer from war and violence, aggression, foreign occupation and annexation. They are forced to abandon their homes and their roots. Millions of children suffer from scourges of poverty, economic crises, malnutrition and diseases. There is also a huge challenge in controlling internet child pornography for law enforcement agencies due to various reasons like the way the internet is structured, lack of regulation, the differences in legislation and the volume of activity done on the internet every passing second.

So what can be done? Controlling is not an answer as children will spend most of their time with peer groups in school, tuitions and elsewhere. Often due to communication gap children don’t or are not able to speak or share with parents. Also, with working parents, both parties are unable to spend quality time with each other, and the child is often left to their own judgment. Besides, most people focus their actions on what ‘should’ be done rather than what the child needs.

Child pornography should be understood from a cultural perspective in India. We don’t want to talk about porn in public because we don’t want to discuss such details with our younger generation. It was and still seen as a taboo to indulge in anything that’s related to sexual pleasure. However, it is crucial that different meanings of love and sex be discussed with children at home so that the child is aware and can take better care of themselves.

It is observed that child pornography or pornography related crimes are less frequently reported in comparison to other crimes. This shows how child pornography is still not accepted as an issue and is ignored. It has become very important that people talk about child pornography so as to raise awareness of the implications of such crimes in our society. It is high time that child pornography is dealt with separately.

Children are vulnerable and hence they need to be protected from potential threats to prevent them from any harm. Thus, one needs to step back and see the way we socially construct children and portray the harm caused to the victim of child pornography if we wish to protect the child from harm. There is enforcement of views upon the child by the parents without knowing the real need of the child. More focus should be given on the demand for child pornography, and paedophiles need to be identified. Focused campaigns aimed at paedophiles will make a significant impact on child pornography. Awareness should be generated in general about to avoid crimes.

There is a need of reforming child pornography legislation. A careful assessment of the harms of child pornography needs to be undertaken by the government to provide a stronger legislation. Attention should be paid in prohibiting the possession of child pornography. This needs to be done keeping in mind the integrative aspect of expertise. All the stakeholders like doctors; representatives of CSOs need to participate in making the policies.

Effective counselling as an inclusive aspect in schools will lead to the overall wellbeing and healthy development of the child. Social work and education have major roles to play too. Social workers through individual counselling, family casework and community work can ensure proper development of the child. The rules must be effective and implemented properly.

Banning pornography is not a solution. Rather open communication must be initiated where the child is interacting with the peers, schools and parents. More advocacies for child rights is needed where parents, teachers and CSO’s will have to partner together to make society understand the effects of child pornography on the children.

It becomes the duty of each one of us to make people aware of such crimes of child pornography to make people comfortable in raising their voice when it occurs.

“Humanity has to do its best for the child.”
– Declaration of Geneva, 1948

If you want to read more about child sexual abuse and how to deal with such a sensitive issue you might want to click on the link below as well:

When A Child Tells You They’ve Been Sexually Abused, How You React Next Matters Most

If you are a survivor, parent or guardian who wants to seek help for child sexual abuse, or know someone who might, you can dial 1098 for CHILDLINE (a 24-hour national helpline) or email them at dial1098@childlineindia.org.in. You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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