Cyberbullying in children more widespread in India than elsewhere


Earlier this year, a high school student in an Indian metro hacked into his school’s network and sent out an email to all the teaching staff from the vice-principal’s email account. The email contained morphed images of the principal and another teacher, alleging that they two were having an illegitimate relationship. Complaints were filed and upon investigation, the student was caught.

While reports of children being bullied in cyberspace make headlines, what often goes unreported is that many of these cybercrimes are committed by their peers, experts said.

Children and teenagers often think that the virtual world offers them complete anonymity and that there won’t be any consequences whatever they do there, they said.

“The anonymity that the virtual world provides makes them say or do things that they wouldn’t in the real world,” said Pavan Duggal, a Supreme Court advocate and a cyber law expert. He said there had been an increase in aggressive behaviour online, especially among teenagers, as they start to experiment with what they can do on the internet.

And the menace seems much more widespread in India than elsewhere.

In a recent global survey by McAfee, 45% of the participating children in India said they cyberbullied a stranger while worldwide 17% said the same. Also, 48% Indian children said they cyberbullied someone they know against 21% children globally.

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One reason for India having a higher rate of cyberbullying may be the early and increasing adoption of electronic devices at schools and at home among children. Children in India are among the youngest to reach mobile maturity and report experiencing online risks, including cyberbullying, at a higher rate than their peers globally, the McAfee survey said.

“What’s notable is that children in India are much more aware that their online activity is cyberbullying compared to their global peers,” said Gagan Singh, executive vice president and chief product and revenue officer at McAfee.

The pandemic has further accelerated the adoption of digital devices by children, while they were dealing with a sense of isolation from being only at home.

For a lot of children, turning to bullying often stems from coping issues and is seen as a way to gain power, experts said.

While earlier this typically happened in the school or a playground where it was easy to catch, victims of cyberbullying often don’t speak up as they believe that they should be able to handle the situation on their own, said counselling psychologist Ishita Pateria.

Cyberbullying covers a whole gamut of online behaviours, from trolling and name calling, to excluding someone from virtual groups, threat of personal harm, posting explicit messages or images, and doxing (publishing private information without consent).

The same factors that lead to bullying in the physical world – lack of maturity or understanding of the actions and consequences, would be applicable here, said NS Nappinai, a Supreme court advocate who has closely worked in this space.

“Often cyber bullying incidents by children come to light through their educational institutions,” she said. “It’s, therefore, doubly important for all schools and colleges to introduce robust cyber awareness programmes as part of their curriculum.”

The McAfee survey found that parents in India reported some of the lowest rates globally of talking to their children about this issue.

“The combination of a high rate of device adoption and low rate of dialogue with parents creates an environment where Indian children are spending large amounts of time online without being fully informed of the risks they may be exposed to,” McAfee’s Singh said.

While increased awareness around what constitutes cyberbullying is needed, lawyers also said law needs to catch up.

Cyberbullying is fairly low priority for law enforcement, they said. As a result, even when cases are reported, the perpetrator isn’t always caught.

If the offender is under 18, they would be sent to a juvenile justice home, SC advocate Duggal said. Even for adults, there are no clear provisions governing cyber bullying, making it difficult to enforce any clear punishments, which would act as a deterrent.



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