Author: Ruhail Choudhury
There may be several contradictory views and opinions in regard to early exposure of children to the diverse world of the internet through mobile phones, tablets or laptops particularly on account of unprecedented circumstances during covid pandemic that lead to a sudden unexpected and to some extent, unplanned introduction to internet aided online education and therefore the risks involved with children can not be completely ignored when hundreds of adults are becoming victims of innovative cyber crime and internet frauds every day.
Children are generally inquisitive in nature and the more you tell them to stay away from something, their interest to know about such things often increases. There are a lot of unsolicited sites which are not conducive for children and in spite of disclaimers and age enquiry buttons, practically there is no way children can be actually stopped from entering such sites. There are more threats than just the contents. Dating and friendship sites are often gateways to the world of blackmailing and extortion, even exploitation in various other forms.
There are several types of online frauds and crimes that are extremely dangerous but the one that is recently emerging as excessively risky for children is related to financial traps, particularly loan apps which are easy sources of instant money without any documentation or requiring any parental consent. Though this has been in the news and RBI & police department have taken it seriously but unfortunately there has not been much effort made by anyone to spread the required awareness among children in particular. Some of these fraudulent traps are so dangerous that they can even lead to cases of suicides or serious depression and mental health issues. It is a known fact that teenagers and children are often in desperate need or desire of buying things with amounts which could range from a few hundred to thousands of rupees and parents often may not agree to buy them such items for various logical reasons. Now with a mobile phone with internet in hand, it may only be a matter of a few clicks and sharing of some important information and giving access to the phone contacts or gallery that can easily get them a few thousand rupees in no time and absolutely unknowingly they may fall into a deadly trap of fraudsters.
Going by the reported incidents, there have been several instances where young students have downloaded some loan apps on their mobile and for quick money, they had casually clicked on various permission links and buttons on their mobile phones with a great deal of excitement and even got few thousands of rupees immediately credited to their bank accounts or through other phone payment methods. The standard modus operandi is to use local callers to first put pressure by threatening calls to extort exuberant amounts in return and even blackmail people with threats of sharing morphed photos or derogatory false information about victims with their phone contacts and in social media which often becomes an unmanageable crisis for many young students. There has been instances of attempts of suicides, extreme trauma and depression on account of such blackmailing.
In this dynamic cyber era when children are so overexposed to internet with google search, chatGPT, Instagram, whatsApp, emails, zoom & MS Team being an integral part of their daily lives, what becomes imperative for parents, teachers and school authorities is to take out time to educate them on the risks of internet frauds and also to help and guide them on their queries and do a balance between encouraging them for all the constructive use of the internet while also properly guide them on the risk of unwisely exploring or exposing to the darker side of the internet. On the psychological side it becomes extremely important to give children the required confidence so that in case of any crisis they have the courage and comfort of sharing their problems openly, as in most cases children starts thinking in the wrong directions or gets into trauma due to fear and inability to share their problems with their parents.
Author: Ruhail Choudhury, an eminent corporate lawyer who specializes in cyber law from WBNUJS and studied child protection laws at Harvard University. Also founder of www.thevoicesonline.com, a digital platform that unites over one million children across the world to spread international peace and friendship.