The Ministry of Women, Children, and Senior Citizens has approved and put in place the Online Child Protection Procedure, 2021, as per Section 86 (1) of the existing Children's Act with a view to curbing online abuses of minors. With the rapid expansion of digital technology and growing access of people to internet in the country, children often spend more time online thereby putting themselves at risk of being exploited.

The procedure requires schools to use crypted computers for internet connectivity, monitor children's online activities and install software which helps filter harmful contents and limits their access to such contents on their devices. "The schools shall make a provision for providing only the designated teacher access to information technology materials being used by children," it reads.

As per the procedure, each educational institution shall set up a grievance settlement system to entertain and settle complaints related to online child abuses likely to occur inside the school, in addition to designating a focal person to deal with them. The schools have also been restricted from collecting and uploading photographs and personal details of children. "Any school wishing to put up photographs and personal details of children shall take prior consent of the guardians concerned for that purpose," the procedure reads. It requires the schools to encourage children to lodge a complaints related to online abuse, besides teaching them the way to report such incidents to the complaint settlement system.

Public libraries and knowledge centres shall also abide by the rules set forth for schools. Similarly, online service providers shall facilitate minimisation of risk of online child abuse by providing necessary information and technology mechanisms to the children and their guardians.

"The internet service providers shall develop a mechanism by which they can easily report about the contents or links that pose threat to children and teenagers. In incidents of serious nature, the complaints shall be forwarded to the police for further investigation and action under the prevailing law," the procedure says.

Likewise, it shall be the duty of internet service providers to provide guardians or caregivers with tools that ensure control of access of children to online content.

According to the procedure, website operators shall be responsible for confirming that the contents published on their websites are free of online child abuse. Website operators are also obliged to take prior consent of guardians before publishing photographs and personal details. Social media operators must also make the contents free of online child abuses and they should discourage the use and circulation of offensive content (both the languages, audio-visual materials and images) for the online protection of all users, including children.

"Social media operators shall formulate and implement the online child protection policy to discourage child abuse, while installing internet filter software to guarantee child protection," it says.

Similarly, the procedure has made it mandatory for cyber cafes to operate safe internet services. "No cyber cafe shall allow children below 14 years of age to have access to computer devices without supervision of guardians. Cyber cafes are prohibited from collecting and maintaining the details of children without the consent of their guardians," it reads.

The procedure also requires parents, guardians and caregivers to protect children from online abuses and prevent contact with strangers via social media and other electronic platforms. "The guardians should not use wallet, card and other payment instruments through the computer device used by their children.

Similarly, the payment service providers shall confirm that the users of payment instruments are above 18 years of age before authentication of transactions," it says.

The procedure has stipulated a provision of a 12-member online child protection coordinating committee led by secretary at the MoWCSC.

A version of this article appears in the print on October 27, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.