Activists are fighting India’s child pornography problem with an online “hotline”

The battle is on.
The battle is on.
Image: Reuters/Kacper Pempel
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India has a new weapon to tackle the spread of child pornography on the internet: an online “hotline.”

A collaboration between Aarambh India, a child protection initiative by the Mumbai-based NGO Prerana, and the UK’s Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), the hotline—actually an anonymous five-question form—was launched on Sept. 19 and is designed to enable citizens to report any sexually explicit images or videos that feature children online, so that the organizations can work to block the content.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 94 instances of child pornography were reported (pdf) in 2015, up 135% from 2014. And that number doesn’t reflect the many cases that go unreported because of the shame associated with the crime.

“There is no proper online redressal available, you have to take the complaint offline,” Siddharth Pillai, the co-director of Aarambh, explained, noting that there’s a dire need for safeguards as internet access expands across India.

The NGO’s “hotline” form is offered in Hindi and English that can be filled in anonymously online. When a website is reported for hosting child pornography, it is assessed by a team of experts from the IWF in the UK. This team will then work to take down the content and prevent any current or future copies of the images or video from being uploaded elsewhere.

Under the 2012 Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (pdf), child pornography in India is punishable by severe prison sentences and steep fines, depending on the severity of the crime. But tackling the problem has been a complicated endeavor, as blocking an offensive website can end with images and videos simply being moved to another url. What’s more, a lot of inappropriate content is hosted on foreign websites or servers that the Indian government doesn’t have jurisdiction over.

But with its new all-digital method for reporting child pornography, Aarambh India and the IWF are betting that crowd-sourced vigilance could help.