The problem of cyber bullying amongst school students in India: The loopholes in IT Act

by Debarati Halder* and K. Jaishankar**

Introduction

Bullying classmates, juniors or even seniors in the school is a common culture among the young school students in India. Mostly it is unprovoked teasing which in some circumstances turn as unintentional abuse of power by one or more children in order to inflict pain or cause distress to another child on repeated occasions. It is a common form of child abuse ( Dawkins J, Hill P. Bullying: Another form of abuse?) . Bullying in a broader sense also includes cyber bullying through internet and mobile phones. While simple teasing regarding oneís personal habits, figure , or any other object which generates curiosity in the young minds is not gravely harmful, but when the same verbal remarks make a child suffer deep depression, withdrawal symptoms or even affect his studies, the seriousness of the issue does not remain bounded in only ďjust for fun sakeĒ. With the easy access to mobile phones and internet by the school students, the matter becomes more serious as the identity of the victim may be revealed to a bigger circle. It is how ever, a very much neglected fact that the habit of bullying and cyber bullying in schools open the path way for the offender to become a habitual ragger in colleges and even turn him into a cyber criminal.

Unfortunately, such an important issue has been totally overlooked by the legislators while promulgating cyber law. Even though with the establishment of IT Act, Indian Penal code, Indian Evidence Act, The Bankerís Books Evidence Act and the Reserve bank of India Act have been amended, Juvenile Justice Act has not been touched upon. It is a hard truth that cyber crime affects children to a greatest extent and in modern India they are practically left defenseless in cyber world. Further in India there is no school manual, guidelines or uniform regulations to prevent bullying or cyber bullying and unfortunately neither the IT Act, 2000, nor the Juvenile Justice Act deals with such subjects of cyber bullying.



Why there should be a law addressing cyber bullying in the schools?.... is a question which we have faced from many school teachers, educationists, parents and managements and even students of elite schools. The correspondent of Pushpalatha Matriculation Higher Secondary School, Triunelveli, an elite school from south Tamil Nadu regretted on the fact that there is no uniform school regulations or policy guidelines banning general bullying, usage of cell phones or restricting internet visits inside the school premises. Even though some schools in metro cities have banned mobile phones inside the schools, stray incidents of sending offending messages to the fellow students through mobile phones still happen and it is growing in number. Similarly, bullying through internet is a common fashion amongst school students.

The most disturbing point in this case is the age group of such offenders range from 8 to 18. Hence either they do the crime of cyber bullying unknowingly, or they do the offence knowing that it is a crime, but not knowing the graveness of the crime. Unfortunately in both the cases however, they are regarded as cyber criminals.

Further, when complained of some serious crimes like cyber bullying by the victims or the parents of the victim, it goes mostly unreported and the parents and students with the help of teachers try to solve the issue by themselves. At the most, the student is referred to a counselor to rectify his aggressive behavior, which may not be fruitful always. It is only after the Air force Balbharati school case, where a student sent offending messages to his fellow students and teachers and then again the famous case of school bullying using the social networking website Orkut, the dangerous effects of cyber bullying amongst school students in India came into light.

A renowned student counselor opines that in most cases of cyber bullying in schools , young girls become easy targets. Hence there should be strict law banning the usage of cell phones by boys and girls who are under 18. She also opines that there should be separate cyber cafes for children who use them for games and study purposes. The vulnerable age of adolescence makes these students more curious to know about cyber sex and finally they become addicted to cyber pornography, cyber defamation, and cyber stalking.

Legal vacuums to deal cyber bullying in India:

In the case of University of Kerala vs. Council, Principalís colleges, Kerala and others, the supreme court of India opined as per the Raghavan Committee report that concerted action is required at the level of school itself to prevent ragging by students in future. Thus it can be seen there is an urgent need to make laws preventing school bullying and specially cyber bullying in India. But the problems to deal with this issue are numerous:

  • The IT Act, 2000 does not include any provisions relating to prevention /punishment /judicial procedure for crimes like cyber bullying by school students. The IT Act, 2000 mentions only two kinds of offences in this regard, namely i) publishing of information which is obscene (section 67 of IT Act) and ii) breach of confidentiality and privacy (section 72 of IT Act). The issue of bullying, teasing, hazing are not mentioned properly.
  • There is no law mentioning the proper age to use cell phones. Students who are under 18 use mobile phones more as a fashion than as an essential commodity and thus make it a means to have fun by sending offending messages to their fellow school mates.
  • There are no uniform regulations for schools preventing school bullying, especially cyber bullying like the Anti Ragging Acts prevalent in many states in India.
  • The issue of cyber bullying by the school students has to be dealt with as per the Juvenile Justice Act as the offenders and victims are mostly not fully adults or young adults. But such a delicate issue has to be handled by counselors and cyber experts as well as parents and not through the usual judicial procedure.
  • The IT Act 2000 needs to be stricter with the public cyber cafes. Just a simple notification preventing the users to visit the porno cites is not enough. The It Act should mention creation of public cyber cafes for children only.
  • Cyber pornography and child abuse in the net have to be addressed.
  • Regulations should be made for each school to have a counselor who can address the cyber crime related issues as well.
  • The need of the day is cyber savvy judges and cyber help line cells for children.
  • The IT Act 2000 does not mention any specific provision for safeguarding the children.





Conclusion:
Due to rapid globalization, cheap mobile phones, easy access to internet and virtually no law to stop abusing school children by their fellow classmates, the problem of cyber crime among children and young adults are on the high. In the western society, even schools are brought under strict vigil of law and administration. Cyber crime, cyber bullying may be common issues in western countries but laws are being made constantly to prevent the growing number of such crimes. India lacks the legal infrastructure to combat the core issues of cyber crimes. Children are the softest targets of the perilous effects of electronic media. Traditionally, in India, it is not the parents but the schools which play a major part to mend a child. Hence stricter laws should be made to prevent school bullying and for ensuring the safety of school children in the cyber world. Hence stricter laws should be made to prevent school bullying and for ensuring the internet safety of school children in the cyber world.


*Debarati Halder is an Advocate presently working as a Research Assistant in the International Cyber Bullying Research Project at the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, Tirunelveli, India. URL: http://www.debaratihalder.co.nr, Email: Debaratihalder@gmail.com

**Dr. K. Jaishankar is a Lecturer in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, Tirunelveli, URL: http://www.drjaishankar.co.nr Email: debajai@hotmail.com


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