Updated: Aug 5, 2020
By Shrestha Banerjee & Rachit Agrawal, Law students at NLUJAA, Assam
The gamut of Mental Health is highly ignored in our daily lives. Although the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 in India defines ‘mental illness’ as a disordered way of thought, exclusive of mental retardation., mental illness is still misconceived as permanent mental disorders and retardation, while the question of psychological illness like stress, depression, and trauma resides in background.
Mental health is the first thing that gets affected in children victimised by any form of online molestation. Contemporary Internet and ‘Cyberspace’ has expanded into what is known as ‘Internet of Things’, where the boundaries between ‘offline’ and ‘online’ are gradually thinning. Therefore, children’s right to privacy and safety often gets abused in cyber maze before they can make sense of it psychologically. Emerging cyber-centric crimes like cyberbullying, online child trafficking, prostitution and pornography deserve to be brought to exposure.
‘Child pornography’ is defined as ‘a visual depiction of either a real child or any person in appearance of a child, involved in sexually explicit conduct, exhibiting the private or the public areas of a child or realistic images of a non-existent child involved or engaged in the conduct aforementioned;’primarily for sexual purposes. The POCSO Act, 2012, the guardian legislation on Sexual Violence against children, has duly enlisted child pornography as a crime. Section 15 of the Act makes the wrongful possession, production or transmission of child pornographic material a punishable offence with fine up to ten thousand rupees and imprisonment up to seven years. The International Labour Organisation cites child pornography as one of the worst forms of child labor. It constitutes a menace that not only victimises the child directly involved, but also several others who get addicted to it, leading to detachment from their regular social life. Children introduce and share these contents among themselves and help spreading the addiction. The gap between the age of majority, and the age of consent keeps on widening owing to the fake age entries in adult websites. Before the advent of POCSO there was no archaic law to address these crimes. In the case of State vs Pankaj Choudhary the Delhi High Court in 2011 prosecuted the accused under ‘outraging the modesty of a woman’ for digital penetration of a 5 year old child. Kamlesh Vaswani v.Union of India held that even if the right to privately view pornography comes under one’s Personal Liberty (Article 21) and Freedom of Expression [Article 19(1) (a)], child pornography is absolutely prohibited in lieu of not making the children vulnerable to sexual violence in the society.
Child bullying and cyber bullying are domains that are yet largely neglected in India. Extensive exposure to social media has increased the scope of cyberbullying children based on their introvert nature, weight, looks, and gender and sexual orientations. This culminates into psychological depression and lower self esteem. Cyberbullying is defined as an “aggressive, intentional act carried out by a group or individual, using electronic forms of contact, repeatedly and over time against a victim who cannot easily defend himself or herself.” Calls, text messages, offensive comments, pictures, or any form of electronic media exponentially empowers the predators to abuse children before a huge public audience. It becomes impossible to track the anonymity of the offenders without the help of experts. Worse, there is no escape as cyberbullying can persist as long as one is connected with technology. The Information Technology Act, 2008 addresses cyberbullying by making the sending of any offensive electronic messages for causing annoyance punishable upto three years.
The study conducted by Intel Security Teens, Tweens and Technology in 2015 presented 81% of the children between 8 to 16 years of age group are active on social media. Almost 22% of these children, that is, one in five children, face online abuse. Mary Aiken’s book ‘The Cybereffect’ highlighted the phenomena of “The Diffusion of Responsibility” or the “The Bystander Effect”, showing that in most cases of cybercrimes, people become a silent witness. The larger the number of people acquainted with it, the lesser is tendency to respond. The victims of child pornography, online and offline bullying, remain largely unheard. Dropping internet prices, increased access and vehement propaganda for ‘Digital India’ have bolstered a toxic cyber environment for children. Internet usage has become much more privatized with personal gadgets replacing erstwhile system of shared family computers. This makes it easier for children to engage in all forms of cyber addiction and crimes, but at the same time, hinders the monitoring the mental health of the ones exploited.
Sometimes the affect of cybercrimes on mental health lasts till adulthood inducing eating disorders, weight distortions, or trust issues. There is a dire need to shift the onus from sympathizing with the victim, to vindication of the offender. We need to educate children about the cyber-ethics, and their right to legal remedies. Social Media Companies should have explicit age monitoring and parental consent mechanisms for sensitive websites. Schools should have effective monitoring mechanisms for children under psycho-therapists and experts. Adolescent peer groups should be surveyed and baptized of the culture of bullying, or pornographic addiction. Technology being double edged sword, parents can use software that connects their gadgets to that of their wards, keeping them updated of their browsing history. Sexually explicit content directed at young people in popular media should be censored. Most importantly, parents should abstain from equipping their wards technologically from tender ages. The socio-cultural stigma and the ‘conspiracy of silence’ that revolves around CSA cases make them go unreported in large numbers. Effective social implementation of the laws can’t be secured unless we become more approachable to children regarding such issues.
 S. 2(s). Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 : “mental illness” means a substantial disorder of thinking, mood, perception, orientation or memory that grossly impairs judgment, behaviour, capacity to recognise reality or ability to meet the ordinary demands of life, mental conditions associated with the abuse of alcohol and drugs, but does not include mental retardation which is a condition of arrested or incomplete development of mind of a person, specially characterised by subnormality of intelligence.  Article 1, EU COUNCIL FRAMEWORK DECISION, Official Journal of the European Union, 2004/68/JHA, 2 (22.12.2003)  Council of Europe, Article 20, Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse(Lanzarote), CETS No. 201, 7(25.10.2007), available at: https://rm.coe.int/1680084822, last accessed 18.11.2019  S. 2(s), Mental Healthcare Act, 2017  United Nations International Labor Organisation, Article 3, Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 , Convention C182, 2(17.6.1999)available at: https://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO::P12100_ILO_CODE:C182 , accessed on 20.11.2019, see also, United Nations Human Rights Commission, Article 34, United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1990 , res. 44/25, 10(20.11.1989), available at https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx , last accessed 18.11.2019  State v. Pankaj Kumar, Criminal Appeal No813/2011  S. 354, The Indian Penal Code,1860  Kamlesh Vaswani v.Union of India, (2016) 7 SCC 592  Ellen Delera, Consequences of Childhood Bullying on Mental Health and Relationships for Young Adults, Journal of Child and Family Studies 1, 2 (2018), available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/326961037_Consequences_of_Childhood_Bullying_on_Mental_Health_and_Relationships_for_Young_Adults , last accessed: 18.11.2019 ,  Smith PK, Del Barrio C, Tokunaga RS., Definitions of bullying and cyberbullying: How useful are the terms 26-40, in Principles of Cyberbullying Research: Definitions, Measures, and Methodology. (Sherry Bauman, Dona Cross, Jenny Walker, Routledge, 2013).  S.66A, Information Technology Act, 2008  Supra Note 9  More Kids are Online. But Indian Parents are Finally Taking Stock: Intel Study. The Indian Express, 2015. Available at: http://www.indianexpress.com/article/technology/tech-news-technology/more-kids-are-online-but-indian- Bullying parents-are-finally-taking-stock-intel-study/, last accessed on 2018 Mar 22.   T. S. Sathyanarayana Rao, Deepali Bansal, and Suhas Chandran, Cyberbullying: A virtual offense with real consequences, Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 1,3 (2018), available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5914259/ , last seen on 20.11.2019  Ibid. at 2  Evelina Landstedt, Susanne Persson, Bullying, cyberbullying and ental health in young people, Scandinavian Journal of Public Health, 393, 398 (2014), available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/260645245_Bullying_cyberbullying_and_mental_health_in_young_people , last seen on 20.11. 2019  CSA:Child Sexual Offences  David K. Carson, Nishi Tripathy, Jennifer M Foster, Child Sexual Abuse in India: Current Issues and Research, National Academy of Psychology(NAOP), Researchgate Publications(2013), available at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/271951215_Child_Sexual_Abuse_in_India_Current_Issues_and_Research, last seen on 21.11.2019
(Disclaimer- The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of Child Rights Centre.)