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NHRC Chairperson Justice Arun Mishra says States, UTs should crack down on online Child Sexual Abuse Material

By Sangeeta Sharma

Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Justice Arun Mishra has said that prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of crimes relating to online Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) was the primary responsibility of the respective States and Union Territories.

Delivering his presidential address at the two-day National Conference on CSAM organised by NHRC, Justice Mishra said a coordinated effort at both the global and national levels would successfully make the digital world safe and secure for children.

The NHRC chairperson noted that Internet Service Providers and Intermediaries have to share the responsibility and that digital forensic development was necessary to catch and check the perpetrators of CSAM. 

The non-cooperation of ISPs and intermediaries must be tackled effectively by stringent legislative provisions, the judiciary and other bodies, he said, adding that it was obligatory on part of the intermediaries to remove illegal and criminal content.

Justice Mishra said action is needed to prevent and address the problem posed by CSAM as the POCSO and IT Acts do not cover all forms of such animated and gaming material. Justice Mishra said that the existing Information Technology Act does not address the challenges of the present times.  Hence, the government formed the IT Rules in 2021 and amended them in 2022 to make intermediaries liable and it is also proposing to bring digital technology law. 

Therefore, cyber security is the key to fighting cybercrime and preserving human rights. He said that besides augmenting forensic infrastructure, keeping pace with emerging challenges is an ask for enforcement agencies. There is also a need for education and training of investigating officers, lawyers, and judges. Mass awareness is also required for internet users, he said.

Justice Mishra said that although the Internet brought revolutionary changes, cyberspace is now being misused to infringe on several human rights, including individual privacy. He said that the government is committed to encouraging the use of the Internet by the people as a tool for their empowerment but it also wants it to be safe and trusted.

In his inaugural address, Union Minister of Law and Justice Kiren Rijiju questioned the point of development if women and children are not safe in the country.

Rijiju said the Centre is committed to taking more proactive action as far as legislation is required but the Judiciary and the Executive along with Civil Society need to work in tandem to make society safe and progressive.

There are many legal provisions to check the menace of Child Sexual Abuse Material, but more requires to be done beyond legal provisions to ensure the human rights of children are not violated. He said that the production, distribution, and consumption of CSAM is one of the most serious forms of sexual abuse faced by children and consecutively a grave violation of their human rights psychologically disrupts their development.

 Rijiju said that there are a number of Fast Track Special Courts to deal with cases of sexual violence against children. These courts have disposed of more than 1,37,000 cases. More Fast Track Special Courts should be formed to dispose of such cases in a timely manner. He noted the disposal of such cases and conviction rate needs to be improved.

Towards that, Rijiju said the High Courts in the country need to look into it. The State Governments need to strengthen the investigating agencies and forensic labs to ensure quick disposal of CSAM cases.

NHRC Member Rajiv Jain said India has framed requisite laws for the implementation of various international covenants for the protection of the rights of children. He said there is a lot more to be done to prevent, detect and prosecute the perpetrators of CSAM. Internet Service Providers should be diligent in their duties. The intermediaries like content hosts and those enabling peer-to-peer encrypted communication need to examine what more can be done.

NHRC Member Dr. Dnyaneshwar M. Mulay delivered the vote of thanks. He said that the Commission would work with various stakeholders about this and looks forward to having some constructive suggestions to ensure the human rights of children are protected against the CSAM menace.

NHRC Secretary General D.K. Singh said the Commission is committed to providing a platform to find out the gaps in the legal provisions and the implementation thereof on the ground. The number of cases registered in CSAM may not actually reflect the gravity of the problem, Singh said.

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