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Banning Child Pornography

Anant Kumar (pandeyanant@hotmail.com) teaches in the Xavier Institute of Social Service, Ranchi, Jharkhand.

 

The government needs to find a mechanism to ban child pornography, and not pornography as a whole, without appearing to be a censoring filter for content on the internet. 

The recent Supreme Court suggestion to the government to find ways to block child pornography has put the government in a dilemma (HT Correspondent 2016). Although the court and the government are firm and committed on banning child pornography, they are unable to find the appropriate mechanism and technology so far. Despite the fact that agencies like the Interpol, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and other authorities are taking necessary action to block websites that indulge in child pornography, it is not technically possible for the government as many of these pornographic websites are not under the country’s jurisdiction. Technical experts feel that it is technically challenging, even if it is not impossible, to block these websites altogether. Besides, there are various bottlenecks and challenges beyond government control such as jurisdiction over foreign pornographic websites, control over foreign internet service providers, and unavailability of appropriate technology which can make distinctions between “pornography” and “child pornography” possible. Secondly, the court wants to ban only “child pornography” and not “pornography” per se as it believes that “adults have a fundamental right to watch pornography within the privacy of their own homes” (Barstow 2015) and it is an individual privacy and personal liberty; banning pornographic websites would be a violation of Article 21 (Right to Personal Liberty) of the constitution.

It is possible to ban all forms of pornography to an extent within the country through internet service providers unless we develop or find an appropriate mechanism and technology which can make a distinction between “pornography” and “child pornography.” Last year (in 2015), the government ordered internet service providers to block access to 857 pornographic websites on the complaint of an activist who analysed traffic data for pornographic websites and came up with the most popular sites, which generated a nationwide debate (Khomami 2015). People were divided on this issue some arguing in favour of the ban, while others were against it. There was a strong opposition to the ban, compelling the government to lift the ban, on the pretext that the government has no business to interfere in individual choice; considering eroticism is a personal choice, the people of the country should have a right to decide what to watch and what not and the state has no role in it and should not impose their morals on others. The rights activists argue that particularly in a country like India, where talking about sex is a taboo, and where many young people have their first exposure to human sexuality through these pornographic websites; blocking these sites is not justified.

On the other hand there are strong pressure groups demanding and supporting the ban, arguing that online pornography should be completely banned as it is responsible for declining values and sexual permissiveness leading to sex crimes against women and children. There is no doubt that many of these pornographic sites depict women and children as sex objects, demeaning their position and showing them as passive recipients of degrading and/or violent acts leading to unrealistic and artificial expectations and various forms of physical, mental and sexual abuse. These unrealistic and artificial representations often pressures the victims to enact or consent to acts which they find demeaning having negative mental and psychological health outcomes and consequences.

Pornography and pornographic imagery have become pervasive, easily available, and has infiltrated the masses where everyone has free access to it through mobile and internet technology. India is on the verge of the information technology revolution led by connectivity and the digital revolution (IAMAI 2009, 2015) with 213 million (as of June 2015) mobile internet users and 302 million (as of December 2014) internet users. The number of internet users is increasing exponentially in India and it is estimated that this number will be more than 500 million by the year 2018. Interestingly, this growth includes rural areas where it is estimated that there will be around 280 million internet users by the year 2018 (Shah et al 2014). In such a scenario, the government should think about borrowing technologies from other countries or develop an alternate technology or a mechanism to ban child pornography.

It is a real dilemma for the central government to take a position on this issue. Even though the government believes that pornography should be banned completely, it would be difficult for them to stand with it, considering the ongoing debate about suppression of rights and freedom of expression under the current government as many believe that it is a government design to create a government controlled web filter for India and control media and its freedom of expression. The government, through concerted efforts of all stakeholders, would need to find some mechanism with the help of technology to ban child pornography.

References

Barstow, David (2015): “India Blocks 857 Pornography Websites, Defying Supreme Court Decision,” New York Times, 3 August, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/04/world/asia/india-orders-blocking-of-857-pornography-websites-targeted-by-activist.html?_r=1.

HT Correspondent (2016): “Block Porn Sites Showing Child Pornography: SC,” Hindustan Times, 27 February, http://www.hindustantimes.com/india/tough-to-block-porn-sites-but-act-on-those-involving-children-sc/story-903nujBIFjtrrvSmqGPCbN.html.

IAMAI (2009): “Digital India: A Call for Action,” http://www.iamai.in/Upload/policy/IAMAI%20-%20Vision%20Document.pdf.   

IAMAI (2015): “2014-2015? The Big Internet Numbers, Press Release,” 2 September, http://www.iamai.in/PRelease_Detail.aspx?nid=3626&NMonth=9&NYear=2015.

Khomami, Nadia (2015): “India Lifts Ban on Internet Pornography after Criticism,” Guardian, 5 August, http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2015/aug/05/india-lifts-ban-on-internet-pornography-after-criticisms.

Shah, A, N Jain and S Bajpai (2014): “India@Digital.Bharat: Creating a $200 Billion Internet Economy,” Boston Consulting Group and the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), http://www.bcgindia.com/documents/file180687.pdf

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