The prolonged closure of schools because of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdown, coupled with access to smartphones and high-speed data, has increasingly made children vulnerable to sexual abuse online, an international rights and law advocacy group has said.
The International Justice Mission (IJM) has, under such circumstances, advised parental vigilance against sexual predators and cyber stalkers who may lure their children to crimes through online and social media platforms.
“Parents are advised to be vigilant and track the Internet usage of children. While the government machinery is focused on thwarting the spread of the coronavirus, criminals and predators anywhere in the world can exploit the closure of schools and increased usage of the Internet by children,” a statement from the IJM’s office in Kolkata said.
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Criminals can take advantage by engaging children who are now expected to be vulnerable due to isolation and less supervision, it added.
“Recent statistics indicate that children are spending time online more than ever. This has developed a lot of room for online child exploitation. We have observed that there has been an increase of online grooming cases globally,” the IJM said, quoting Guillermo Galarza of the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children based in Virginia, U.S.
A report released by Europol titled Pandemic Profiteering stated that there was an increase in online activity by those seeking child abuse material. The report found a correlation between this increased activity being consistent with online postings in forums by offenders.
“While there haven’t been any cases reported yet in India, it is highly possible that seasoned human trafficking criminals will exploit the current situation. Sex-traffickers were found to use social media applications to engage customers in 90% of cases where we supported the police to rescue children in the last two years,” said Saji Philip, IJM’s director of operations.
Cyber-trafficking, grooming, sextortion, sexting, live streaming of child sexual abuse are some of the new norms of crime against children and vulnerable communities.