India saw 50% internet penetration in 2020 compared to 34.4% in 2019, mostly as a result of the pandemic. The increase in children’s online activity therefore becomes evident as of India’s 749 million internet users, 232 million are children. The Internet is a double-edged sword allowing connectivity, access to knowledge and entertainment on the one hand and potential exposure to harmful and inappropriate content on the other. Children, as sensitive and impressionable individuals, must be protected from possible harm through Internet use. Cyberbullying, cybersexual harassment, cybergrooming, loss of privacy and incitement to illegal behavior are just a few dangers to name. The growing number of children constantly using social media to record and share their lives through photographs and videos requires certain regulations and mechanisms to monitor children’s online activities, reduce risks and vulnerabilities and protect them from harm. .
Online child safety has received global attention in recent years. International organizations that have focused on abuse and exploitation as a violation of children’s rights have realized its overlap with children’s use of the Internet. The Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography are key international policies for security children online. The European Convention on Cybercrime (2001) and the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (2007) are examples of regional conventions that fight for the protection of children online. Countries like Spain and Australia have adopted protocols and laws to prevent and combat cybercrimes against children. In May 2021, the UK government released its long-discussed child-safety-focused plan to regulate content and speech online. While the seriousness of the problem has been recognised, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the consequent rise in children’s online activity cannot be underestimated.
The drastic transition of all arrangements to online platforms has created a situation that no one was prepared for. Teachers, parents and students had to navigate an unfamiliar virtual world to maintain an education system. Due to this unprecedented increase in online communication and screen time, children have become more vulnerable to online exploitation. The pandemic has also widened the path for digital learning and the subsequent growth of EdTech companies. The shutdown of physical education has made EdTech companies the sole providers of education platforms. Indian EdTechs have flourished with the adoption of EdTech solutions during the pandemic. This growth has unfortunately manifested data protection risks and privacy breaches. If left unchecked, the digitalization of education can have seriously detrimental repercussions.
The approach to cybersecurity cannot be generalized, it must be specific to geography and culture. While international commitments are reassuring, national policies and strategies from governments, civil society organizations, and EdTechs are critical to tackling online child abuse. The efforts of the Indian government to keep children safe online are commendable. The National Commission for the Protection of Children’s Rights (NCPCR) has set up an online complaints management system which provides a confidential platform for victims (or their representatives) to report cases of abuse and sexual assault. The Home Office has sanctioned a “Prevention of Cybercrime Against Women and Children (CCPWC)” program which includes an online cybercrime reporting portal for cases of child pornography/sexual abuse material from children, rape/gang rape images or sexually explicit content. Awareness measures have been taken through alerts and advisories, law enforcement training, improved cybercrime facilities, etc.
The extensive and critical nature of online child safety requires regulations and mechanisms that protect children. It is imperative to ensure adequate understanding of the issue, to promote the best interests of the child and to develop appropriate recovery services for victims of cybercrimes. EdTechs need to be proactive in keeping kids safe online and advocating for the issue first. Millions of children access these learning platforms, so the least you can do is keep them safe. Online child abuse affects all children. Today, children are not safe at home, with 1 in 3 children having internet access and multiple content, and special attention needs to be given to low-income groups, marginalized communities and children in areas rural areas because their lack of awareness and support could make the situation worse. Effective implementation of laws alongside awareness programs will address the problem of online child abuse, empower children and develop a safe online learning environment.
Child safety, and investing in it through EdTech, is not an option, but a need of the hour. Space2Grow also recognizes the need for child safety online and has therefore partnered with Vedantu, to create a safe space in which children, teachers and parents can thrive. Together, the organization works to raise awareness of the issue and create products that address the specifics of the issue and advocate for strong legal and redress mechanisms for child online safety breaches.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
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