Recently, my neighbour’s child told me she had bought a set of make-up items online using her mother’s online banking facilities. So, in the process, did she commit a crime?
Seen from the legal perspective, yes, she did! If the girl used her mother’s financial details without her mother’s knowledge and by posing as her, she could be booked under several provisions of the Indian Penal Code. She could also be booked under sections of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (amended in 2008), such as
• S.66C (punishment for identity theft)
• S.66D (punishment for cheating by personation by using the computer resources)
Lack of monitoring dangerous
We often see children accessing parents’ devices as well as sensitive personal financial data without the parents monitoring them. This is extremely dangerous as the children may be exposed to violent or offensive content on the Internet through the parent’s device and identity. In such cases, can the children and parents be called ‘criminals’ and ‘victims’ or vice versa? We have heard the proverb ‘Charity begins at home’. Similarly, criminality begins at home if the child is not monitored or sensitised. Cybercrimes are crimes committed through computer networks, computer resources or with the help of the digital communication device as a whole. While children are the most vulnerable to such crimes, they can also turn into juvenile perpetrators if they are not properly sensitised.
The cyber juvenile delinquents
While there are online games like the Blue Whale that encourage children to commit suicide, these are by no means the only challenge the World Wide Web has thrown up for children. And, the frightening thing is children tend to learn everything offered by visual communication-based media like smartphones. A couple of children I know love to watch and play violent games on their phones. When I asked them why they liked these games, I was shocked when they said they were thrilling – more thrilling than a mere detective story because they could ‘murder’, ‘stab’ and even ‘rape’ people without being caught!
Age restrictions? Who cares?
While these games may come with age restrictions, who monitors that? And, who really cares? There are several examples of younger children being enticed by strangers to grow the latter’s racket. Then there were the three British teenagers who were groomed by Islamic State recruiters through a social media site and later left their homes to join the vicious organisation. Further, there have also been reports of teenagers actually capturing voyeuristic images or recording sexual assaults to gratify themselves or sell them to the porn market.
Child perpetrators are victims
But, why and how are children turning perpetrators? I believe a child perpetrator may be a victim of circumstances or various other factors which might have pushed him into becoming a perpetrator. Often, children get in touch with strangers because they access the Internet through their social media or messaging services without being monitored or sensitised. Further, children may also use their parents’ profiles or come across as proxy stalkers who are frenemies of their parents. They may also become victims of cyber bullying because they don’t know when not to answer back.
Hidden pockets of victimisation
It is unfortunate that while schools hand out Internet-based assignments, they don’t sensitise the children properly. Many teenagers unknowingly share personal photos or selfies with their friends through messaging sites. But these are hidden pockets of victimisation. We never know who might access the phone in the absence of the child who was supposed to receive the content. There are instances of relatives of the child seeing such pictures and immediately transferring them to their mobiles just to ‘play’ with them in an adult manner later.
Ways to keep your child safe
In present times, parents often lack the time to monitor their children. The children themselves have also become smarter in escaping parents’ ‘surveillance’. What then is the solution?
- Try not to pacify the child with your digital device. Traditional pacifiers like sketch books and crayons are far better and safer than unmonitored digital habits.
- When your child is adamant about taking your phone, offer to watch what she wants to watch. The child will learn that parents can be depended on to share a secret.
- Do not let your child use social media when you are not around. Encourage him to have his own network only when he is completely aware of the dangers. Tell him to make you a ‘friend’ to guide him and protect him from predators.
- Teach her how to report, block and avoid predators. Ask her to help you in blocking an account which you feel might be fake. If she can watch crime thrillers on TV, she can also see what a fake profile looks like. This would be a practical lesson for her.
- Tell him not to opt for online shopping alone, that you don’t want him to be considered an impersonator using your card. Smart children will immediately understand what you mean.
- Teach her how to reach the police if there is a cybercrime. See that she has all the information about the cybercrime prevention cell of the police in case of need.
Follow these rules to stay safe and teach your child to be safe too.
*Dr. Debarati Halder is the Honorary Managing Director of Centre for Cyber Victim Counselling (www.cybervictims.org) . She is also working as Professor & Head of the Department of Research, Unitedworld School of Law, Karnavati University, Gandhinagar, Gujarat. She can be reached @firstname.lastname@example.org
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