Worried about your child’s safety online? Here are some tips to keep him safe while surfing the Net.
By Debarati Halder
I was travelling to Kolkata recently by air. The scene at the waiting lounge of the airport reminded me of an advertisement I’d seen in which everyone in the family, including the children, was engrossed in their own electronic, digital communication device. Some of my fellow passengers were checking their messages or mail or looking at social media posts, while others were watching videos online. What struck me was that everyone, children included, was enjoying complete privacy while doing whatever he or she was doing. And, this is where the danger lies, especially where children are concerned.
Children are often simultaneously exposed to appropriate and inappropriate content while on the Net. They could be doing school projects, searching for holiday destinations or watching funny content or even some educational video online when inappropriate content pops up. For example, your child may be looking at learning materials on reproduction. Invariably, she will see links to other videos, some of which have inappropriate content, including pornography. Or, she may be doing a search on a particular period of history in India and the search engine throws up content showcasing violent visuals of terrorism, bombings and mutilated bodies.
You may think that your child will be safer if he is part of a group. But that may not necessarily be true. I have often seen objectionable content being shared by members of even groups meant for studies. And, the content may have been shared not by any of the children, but accidentally by one of their parents who had allowed their child to list their number in that group. I remember seeing a video showing a man being brutally killed and his young wife attacked in the name of honour killing in Tamil Nadu in a messaging group meant for school children. All the children were using the mobile numbers of their parents and this video was ‘accidentally’ shared by one parent in this group.
The question is, how do you protect your child from viewing such inappropriate content?
Parents must understand that the existing laws, including the Information Technology Act, 2000 (amended in 2008) (especially S.67B) and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, (especially S.11) have broad scope to include ‘anyone’ who violates the norms of law and shows or exposes a child to pornographic or sexually explicit or any other inappropriate content. As such, the parents may also be held liable if the children (even accidentally) are exposed to inappropriate content because of their negligence. In other words, if any phone number in a group used by children is used to share inappropriate content, the owner of the number may be held liable for sharing that content and for exposing the children to it. We also need to understand that there is still some ambiguity in the understanding of courts on the liability of administrators of social media groups. Hence, parents have to be extremely careful while letting their children use their mobile phone numbers or social media profiles.
The following do’s and don’ts could help you prevent your child from getting exposed to inappropriate online content:
Beyond everything else, always be ready to comfort your child in case he has been accidentally exposed to inappropriate content and is traumatised by it. Following the tips given here will help you teach your child about the value of the Internet while pointing out the dangers it also holds.
Dr Debarati Halder is the Honorary Managing Director of the 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 at firstname.lastname@example.org
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