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Rajya Sabha panel proposes new measures to tackle online child porn

A Rajya Sabha panel of MPs led by Jairam Ramesh has submitted its recommendations to curb online child porn, The Economic Times reported. The 14-member ad hoc panel, which was formed by Rajya Sabha chairman Venkaiah Naidu last month, has suggested establishing a “dedicated mechanism” to limit online sexual crimes and changing the definition of “child pornography” under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, among other recommendations.

The committee was formed in December 2019 after the Parliament was informed of cases of child pornography and online sexual exploitation of children, said The Economic Times. The task of the group was to prepare an “informal report” about issues related to the distribution of pornographic content online, reported the Hindu.

Some other suggestions reportedly include:

  • Adding “advocating or counselling sexual activity” to a minor as an offense under POCSO. The current definition of child pornography includes “photograph, video, digital or computer-generated image indistinguishable from an actual child, and image created, adapted, or modified, but appear to depict a child”.
  • An international cybercrime reporting portal where sexual crimes against children all over the world can be reported.
  • Appointment of “safety commissioners” in every state to strengthen the implementation of measures. They would be responsible for monitoring incidents of sexual exploitation.
  • Safeguarding children from “cyber grooming” which is the practice of ‘befriending’ a young person online to facilitate online sexual contact and/or a physical meeting with them with the goal of committing sexual abuse”.
  • Expanding the role of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights.
  • Panel likely to suggest a “code of conduct” for social media platforms and empower dark web investigators.

The panel also held discussions with Facebook, Google and TikTok to inquire about their policies on pornographic content, according to the ET report. Members also met representatives from NGOs.

The POCSO Act was amended last year to widen the definition of child pornography to include any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a child – including “photograph, video, digital or computer-generated image indistinguishable from an actual child, and image created, adapted, or modified, but appear to depict a child”. The amendment introduced a new section 15 that gave the following penalties for storage and possession of child pornographic material:

  • A minimum fine of INR 5,000 for possession of pornographic material involving a child and with the intention to share the material in the first-time offense. For subsequent offenses, the fine will be no less than INR 10,000.
  • Transmission such material, except for the purpose of reporting or as evidence in the court, will be punishable with a fine, prison term of up to 3 years, or both.
  • Commercial use of such material will be punishable with a prison term of 3-5 years, or fine, or both for the first conviction. Subsequent convictions can lead to a prison term of 5-7 years with fine.
  • During the discussion of the bill, it was criticised by multiple MPs on grounds that included reasons such as inadequate penalties and open-ended nature of a particular term.

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