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Nation cannot celebrate its achievements if women and children not safe: Law Minister Rijiju

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NEW DELHI, March 2 (PTI): A society or a nation cannot celebrate its achievements if its women and children are not safe, Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju said on Thursday, dubbing the crime of child sexual abuse as one of the most grave and disconcerting challenges.

Addressing a conference on ‘Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM)’, hosted by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) at the Vigyan Bhawan here, Rijiju said that “we will have to go beyond legal provisions” and society must come together to ensure safety of women and children.

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He described the conference as “timely and very relevant” and said, “We expect that concrete outcomes will come out of it.”

In his address, Rijiju underlined that “a society or a nation cannot celebrate its achievements if their women and children are not safe”.

He particularly stressed on the issue of violence faced by children, and urged all stakeholders and the society to do more. “The violence against children, especially child sexual abuse… I feel, and it is for everyone, is the most grave and disconcerting challenges,” the minister said.

“All crimes are bad, but crimes against children are difficult to digest. How can you commit crimes against children? We have to be extremely serious in our approaches. It cannot be treated just as a crime. If you look at it just as a crime, then we will deal with it just as an ordinary crime,” Rijiju said.

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The minister inaugurated the two-day conference on Thursday in the presence of NHRC Chairperson Justice (retd) Arun Kumar Mishra and the rights panel members. It was attended by senior government officers, legal experts, academicians and scholars, among others.

The aim of the is to derive recommendations for stakeholders such as policy makers and content hosts, including social media platforms, and law enforcement agencies, after deliberations to advocate safe cyberspace for children.

Rijiju described CSAM as a “great menace” and said he looked forward to receive suggestions, recommendations and actionable points from the NHRC after this conference.

The NHRC chief in his address said, “We have witnessed an exponential rise in internet users over the past decade”.

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“By the end of 2020, India had nearly 70 crore internet users. Cyberspace is being misused to infringe on civil and human rights, including individual privacy. Cyber security is the key to fighting cybercrime and preserving human rights. Digital forensic science is an edifice of the criminal justice system to prevent infringement and preserve and promote human rights. It strengthens the rule of law,” he said.

Justice Mishra said cyberspace has “96 per cent of the dark web” and it is the most potent medium used for sex trafficking and slavery involving women, children, tribals and vulnerable sections of society.

CSAM, drug smuggling, extortion, terrorism and organised crimes are global challenges, he underlined.

Online CSAM is one of the “worst forms of child abuse” and it perpetuates sexual abuse of children and the continued molestation of child victims, which has a severe psychological impact on them, Justice Mishra said, and cautioned that there are “no territorial borders for fast-evolving online CSAM”.

The NHRC chairperson in his address underlined that there is a “rising trend of fraud cases in e-commerce and cracking or hacking data for ransom”.

“The demand for the same in cryptocurrency multiplies the difficulties in tracking the offenders. Criminal groups and individual criminals continue to generate large turnovers in cash profits from their activities each year…,” he said.

The Ministry of Home Affair’s National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal shows that India is emerging as “one of the most vulnerable countries in today’s world”. Global studies indicate that “India is third in the number of cyber threats detected and second in targeted attacks,” he said.

Cyber crimes such as CSAM need to be dealt with effectively and require digital forensic development and know-how, the rights panel chief said, adding, “we need to mount an urgent, dynamic, and international response”.

He said forensic infrastructure should be agumented so that investigating agencies and police can keep pace with emerging challenges. Blocking malicious traffic is still a forensic challenge and the US has developed “Akaatosh” devices for real-time forensic analysis effective for tracking offenders, and such inventions are necessary, the NHRC chairperson said.

The internet can be used by criminals to commit a crime, and, still, it can also be an “ally in the fight against cyber-criminals” and digital forensics helps recover and restore the data affected by the offenders, he added.

Establishing workstations for faster and complete digital evidence examinations is required. It is “essential to create cyber forensic software and hardware and original tools”, Justice Mishra said. He added that the development of an “investigation kit and infrastructure” is urgently needed.

The NHRC chief said to check such crimes, there is a need for more computerised forensic science laboratories and a centre of excellence on information technology security.

He said at the same time, there is a necessity for the education and training of investigating officers, lawyers and judges. Lastly, there is a need to increase awareness and provide information to computer users, Justice Mishra said.

Internet is an excellent source of information, but at the same time it can be very dangerous. Cyberspace is still an “uncharted law territory”, further compounded by cross-border jurisdiction and its misuse must be stopped, the NHRC chief asserted.

“Our cyber crime cells, forensic science labs, can create a culture of accountability and strike fear in the mind of violators” that they would not be able to evade the consequences of their criminal acts,” he said in his address.

According to the Crime in India Report 2021, Delhi, Karnataka, and Kerala recorded 160, 159 and 129 cases, respectively. And, 689 persons were arrested for transmitting CSAM, of which 680 were men and nine were women, he said, quoting the data.

A 2018 study by Interpol reveals that around 60 per cent of victims of online CSAM were “prepubescent children, including toddlers and infants, who were more likely to suffer violent forms of abuse”, he said.

The NHRC chief said child sexual abuse content is configured to self-destruct after a single view, destroying all digital evidence.

File storage sites consisting of password-protected cyber-lockers and image-hosting sites allow users to upload files, and CSAM is accessed without any need for storing the same in personal devices, he flagged.

For prevention of CSAM, ISP and intermediaries have a “pivotal role” to play apart from detecting offenders. For addressing CSAM, the IT Act, 2000, central legislation Section 67B deals with punishment, and Section 67 C requires the intermediaries to give Information, he said.

The NHRC chairperson said with a coordinated effort at both global and national levels and with the effort of all, “I am confident that we will successfully make the digital world safe and secure for our children”.

The commission had earlier said that it has been concerned with the ill-effects of online child sexual abuse material and has been organising dialogues from time to time in the recent past to come out with ways and means to check this menace.

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