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How Kerala Police is fighting online crimes against Children amidst pandemic

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Thiruvananthapuram, June 07: Under-reporting of child sexual abuse and increased sharing of child exploitation material through peer-to-peer networks are among the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic" Jürgen Stock, INTERPOL Secretary General had said.

How Kerala Police is fighting online crimes against Children amidst pandemic

The biggest impact of the COVID pandemic, apart from the Health issues, has been on online crimes against children and this has been flagged by the Interpol in the second wave, that has put the children in the dock, who are already suffering due to the restrictions inside homes, online classes etc. The restrictions and lack of free movement has led to huge increase in internet activity all around the Globe, giving the pedophiles increased opportunities, in relation to pornography and child crimes.

Kerala Police CCSE (Countering Child Sexual Exploitation) Team, functioning under Cyberdome, understanding the gravity of the problem, has for the last three years, embarked on a sustained digital analysis of the virtual trends and these problems, particularly during the Pandemic period and after identifying the culprits a special operation titled P-hunt was launched, which has been highly successful and over the last couple of years more than 1007 cases have been registered and more than 465 accused have been arrested for possession of CSAM.

The current basic trends that can be derived in the behaviour of internet users, in Kerala, is that there has been a lot of deterrent effect due to the hyper active work of the CCSE cell and due to the arrests and registration of cases. But in many cases these crimes are related to mental addictions that require treatment, and in the absence of the same, there are trends of repetition of offences or the accused coming back to the crime, more prepared, with better tools of anonymity etc. So after every two months we again see the trend going up and a spike in such cases against children.

A familiar trend is found in porn groups operating over Whatsapp and Telegram and number of such groups have increased drastically during this period. Due to the police action thru P hunt drives, the accused now watch the video and delete it using specialised software to evade detection. They also have started formatting their phone every three days.Use of malware to activate the webcams of the victim and to steal information of children has also been reported in certain cases. In a few cases we have seen online live sex sessions involving children that are available on payment over restricted links
Understanding the gravity of the problem and the fact that children are being continued to be exploited, the CCSE cell of Kerala Police went into a high tech mode, to identify the persons downloading/ uploading CSAM material from the internet. IP address were collected using specialised software and persons sharing such pictures on social media handles were traced using different tools. Apart from this the Tipline reports received from NCMEC (Through NCRB) were also analyzed and identified. Many groups operating on Telegram/Whatsapp such as Kids Videos, Adholokam, Anikhafans,Incesto 17, Real Girls,Girls and Boys chat group, Only kids videos, Teenporn,Ammayi,Sukhalokam,Bigmelonoperating with more than 576 odd members each from the State, were identified and listed out.

As a part of this covert drive around 477 such locations were identified throughout the State and a covert operation named P-HUNT_ 21.1,was planned to bring the culprits to book. The information was then collated and passed on to 310 teams under the District Police Chiefs, having members of cyber cells, technical experts and women component.

Under the operational supervision of the District SPs, simultaneous raids were conducted throughout the State, on Sunday the 6thof June 2021, from early morning onwards.

The raids were highly successful and as a part of the operation, the teams could seize 429 devices in 370 cases registered- which includeMobile phones, Modems, Hard Disks, Memory Cards, Laptops, Computers etc. with graphic and illegal videos and pictures of children. The distressing part of the same is that many of the videos/pictures appear to be of local children, ranging in age group of 5 years to 16 years.

Based on the recovery of the devices with the CSAM material,28 arrests were made and this includes youth working in good professional jobs and most of them are IT savvy, which is the reason why they were using all kinds of encrypted handles to upload and download the material. Some are suspected to be involved in the trafficking of children also as there are many chats to this effect in their devices.

In the raids conducted all over the State, a total number of 370 cases were registered all over Kerala.

The details of rest of the people involved in circulating these images and videos are being further collected.Strong action will be taken against all the individuals involved in this racket, continuing our policy of zero tolerance in these matters. The technical assistance for the collection of information was led by Shri Shyam Kumar A, Operations Officer, Cyberdome and he was assisted byRenjith RU,Anoop GS,Vaisakh SS,Arunraj R andAkshay Santhoshall members of the CCSE Cyber dome Squad. The India Child Protection Fund (ICPF) also provided the technical expertise and resources, required to detect these online crimes and worked with the Team with a common objective of Protecting children from abuse.

The State Police Chief had constituted the "CCSE( Counter Child Sexual Exploitation) Unit for Kerala Police'' with special emphasis on preventing online Child exploitation and child pornography on the net.

This Unit has become fully functional from January 2019 onwards and works full time on preventing and detecting online crimes against children.

It should be noted that as per the current law, viewing, distributing or storing of any child pornographic content is a criminal offense can result in, up to 5 years imprisonment and up to Rs 10 lakh fine. Kerala Police seeks the support of the community, in this project and if any member of the public comes across any such channels or groups that spread child sex-related content, we urge you to please inform Hi Tech Crime Enquiry Cell,Cyberdomeor Cyber cellsat the earliest, considering "Child security as the responsibility of every member of the society".

Manoj Abraham IPS Additional Director General of Police & Nodal Officer, Cyberdome

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