Ensure filters on devices to curb children’s access to porn, says RS committee

Panel submits report with 40 recommendations

January 26, 2020 04:14 am | Updated 04:14 am IST

Former Union Minister and Congress leader Jairam Ramesh. File

Former Union Minister and Congress leader Jairam Ramesh. File

There should be mandatory applications on all devices sold in India that monitors children’s access to pornographic content, a code of conduct for social media platforms to ensure that no child pornographic material is relayed and a nodal agency to combat child pornography in social media — these are the few recommendations made by the Rajya Sabha committee on “pornography on social media and its effect on children”.

The ad hoc committee headed by Congress leader Jairam Ramesh that was constituted following a debate in the Rajya Sabha on the issue by its Chairman Venkaiah Naidu, submitted its report on Saturday.

The committee’s basic mandate was to look at “access of children to pornographic material on social media” and “circulation of pornographic material on social media in which children are abused”.

Overall, the committee, which was given a month’s time, has made 40 recommendations after consulting with all stakeholders, including the Ministry of Women and Child Development, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), the Ministry of Home Affairs, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and social media platforms such as Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, TikTok, Twitter and Sharechat.

The report says that definition of child pornography needs to broadened with additional clause to be inserted in the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO Act), 2012 under which advocating or counselling sexual activities with a person under the age of 18 through any written material, visual representation or audio recording or any characterisation is made an offence under the Act.

It has recommended that the POCSO Act should have a provision on “cyber-grooming” which was defined in June 2016 by International Labour Organisation as “the process of establishing/building a relationship with a child either in person or through the use of the internet or other digital technologies to facilitate either online or offline sexual contact with that person.”

Safeguards for minors

At the same time, the committee has recommended safeguards for minors engaging in “sexting and selfies”. The minors exchanging sexually explicit pictures of oneself and exchanging them with other minors should not be prosecuted under the law, the committee has noted.

Check on social media

The committee has felt that there is a need for a code of conduct for the social media platforms. Explaining further, the report says that such a code should lay down “ the general principles and practical guidelines for maintaining child safety online, ensuring age appropriate content and curbing use of children for pornographic purposes”.

The existing National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) should also be appointed as the nodal agency to check child pornography. But to do so, the committee has recommended that the NCPCR be equipped with cyber policing expertise and powers to prosecute.

Monitoring apps

The committee has asked MeitY to mandate existing screen monitoring apps or encourage industry to develop one that will monitor children’s access to pornographic content. This should be freely available to Internet service providers, companies, schools and parents.

There is a need to build a “political alliance” to combat the menace, the committee has noted and has recommended that Prime Minister Narendra Modi take up the subject of child pornography during one of the ‘Mann Ki Baat’ broadcasts.

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