Social In India, the legal framework does not

            Social Media and Its Impact on Children



The advancement in
social media has become boon to people in connecting with people around the
world however this has brought about a threat to the society. With the changes,
a new mode of commission of various crime has been identified. Today most of
the people around the world spend their time on the virtual world failing to
distinguish the virtual world from real world. People are abused, trolled,
bullied on social media. Moreover, the most vulnerable people on these social
media are children. They barely know the pros and cons of such medias and are
easily the targets of abusers who are sitting behind a computer or some other
kind of gadgets. This research paper is intended to deal with the excessive use
of social media by children and child abuse that is caused in the virtual world
but has its impact on the real world.

In India, the legal
framework does not allow anyone under 18 years of age to use the social
networking however, children openly lie about their age to be able to use the
social networking sites.  It is the need of the hour to look into the
legal aspects of the social networking and the child. Protecting the child from
the cyber predators is one of the key concerns in India. This article throws
light on the offenses committed to the child in the virtual space. It embarks
upon various legal aspects related to the child and the use of social


The way internet has
brought changes in the life of people around the world India is no exception to
it and it has affected how the people interact socially. In statics produced by
Statista, an online statistic portal, shows that until 2017 in India there were
196.02 million internet users and this figure is estimated to rise in 2018 to
226.06 million. Through the use of social media people can connect with other
people living across the world, exchange photographs and videos, post their
thoughts, participate in online discussion, and many more. This has made the
world a global village but since everything comes with a price to pay so social
media is no exception as well. With all the activity done online the personal
information that is shared by the users may be collected and may also be used
against them.

What is Social Media?The term “social media” refers to the wide
range of Internet-based and mobile services that allow users to participate in
online exchanges, contribute user-created content, or join online communities.1

Who a “Child” is?

Convention on the Rights of child 1989 article
1 states who a child is:

For the purpose of the present convention, a
child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the
law applicable to the child majority is attained earlier.

According to the Juvenile Justice (Care and
Protection of Children) Act 2015 section 2 sub section 12 defines “child” as a
person who has not completed eighteen years of age.


India : A scenario on
exposure of children on social media

According to a Microsoft study on June 2012
that more than 50% of the children in India using the net are either threatened
or harassed online. The ‘Global Youth Online Behaviour Survey’ conducted by
Microsoft, revealed that 53% of the surveyed children aged between eight and 17
in India admitted they were victims of cyber bullying.2 A survey conducted by Tata
Consultancy Services found that while 84 percent of the respondents had
internet access at home, 85 percent used social networking site such as
Facebook and 79 percent owned mobile phone.3
Exposure of children to inappropriate content is common not only in the social
networking but also available in the ambit of internet. While 56 per cent
parents are concerned about their children in 13-17 age group being misguided
online, 42 per cent parents of 4-8 year olds fear that their kids could be
exposed to adult material.4
Before exploring the legal aspects relating to this let’s briefly discuss the
impact on the child psychology. Children addicted to the social networking
without understanding the implications are falling victim. A Class 10 student
stabbing his classmate in a central Delhi school, apparently miffed at the
latter posting his photograph on Facebook.5
A large
number of minors were abused after making contact with unknown adults on social
media, a report from the National Police Agency has stated. The report cited
1,421 recorded cases of children aged 17 or less falling victim to crime
through their use of social networking services the highest number since the
NPA started taking statistics in 2008. Nearly 80 percent of those minors became
victims after using their smartphones.6 In India, a 13-year-old
girl eloping with a 22-year-old man she had befriended on her father’s social
media. As per a news report the legal age to set up an account on popular
social media sites such as Facebook which had led to debate in India. In 2013,
the Delhi high court had asked the Union government how children below age 18
were being allowed to open accounts on social networking sites.7


A UNICEF report on
“Child Online Protection in India” stated about how cyber offences against
children are spreading and diversifying as new methods are used to harass,
abuse and exploit them. The report also stated that India does not have a
hotline for reporting and removing online “child sexual abuse material” and
lacked guidance, protocols or coordinated response. Current forms of child
abuse and exploitation include:8

Cyberbullying: emotional
harassment, defamation and social exposure, intimidation, social exclusion9

Online sexual abuse:
Distribution of sexually explicit and violent content, sexual harassment10

Online sexual
exploitation: Production, distribution and use of child sexual abuse material
(Child pornography), ‘sextortion’, ‘revenge pornography’11

Cyber Extremism:
Ideological indoctrination and recruitment, threats of extreme violence

Online commercial fraud:
Identity theft, phishing, hacking, financial fraud12

Habit formation and
online enticement to illegal behaviors: Access to alcohol, cheating,
plagiarism, gambling, drug trafficking, sexting and self-exposure.13

Grooming: Preparing a child,
significant adult and the environment for sexual abuse and exploitation or
ideological manipulation.14

Framework Relating To Social Networking In India

There is wide gap existing between
the Indian laws and the social networking. The legislature should go a long way
to draft a legislation to tackle the problems of social networking. The
Information Technology Act 2000, which is the only Act dealing with the cyber
space, is silent about the definition of child, minor, age etc. It is irony
that the issue of the age is not specified even in the Information Technology
Act, indicating clear negligence on the part of the legislature in drafting the
Information Technology Act. section 2 (1)(w) of the Information Technology Act defines intermediary as
with respect to any particular electronic message means any person who on
behalf of another person receives, stores or transmits that message or provides
any service with respect to that message. Hence, it is that the social
networking comes under the meaning of intermediary under the Information
Technology Act. The act or omission that amounts to offence in the cyber space
will be punishable under the Indian Penal Code. The act or omission that
amounts to offence in the cyber space will be punishable under the Indian Penal
Code also. As the context and magnitude of the offence is different from the
conventional crimes, the platform in which the offence is happening is itself
different from conventional crimes.

Various social networking sites
like facebook prescribes the minimum age to register as a user is 13 and it is
a standard form of contract. Nevertheless, it is not a strict requirement. It
leaves the option in the hands of the countries in which they are utilizing
their service. Consumer Reports has found in its 2011 State of the Net Survey
that More than 5 million children are in the age of 10 and under well below
Facebook’s minimum age of 13 use the service. Despite critics’ concerns, the
fact is that numbers of under-13s have already joined the network, by
misrepresenting about their age while filling in the sign up form. According to
Consumer Reports, out of the 20 million minors who actively use Facebook, 7.5
million are younger than 13, while more than five million are younger than 10.15

Section 18 of the Indian Contract
Act defines misrepresentation as the person who making it may not warrant that
it is not true. In addition, misrepresentation gives positive assertion. It
misleads the other to gain an advantage16.
Misrepresentation in the real world is punishable under the Indian Penal Code.
Misrepresentation is referring to a false statement of fact made by one party
to another party, which has the effect of inducing that party into the
contract. The personal space given by the social networking sites can be used
to create personal profile that represents the user.

committed to a child

Common offences against a child in
the social networking are Cyber bullying, cyber stalking, sexting, molestation,
trolling etc Cyber bullying actions that use information and communication
technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behavior by an
individual or group that is intended to harm another or others. Cyber bullying
is when a child or group of children (under the age of 18) intentionally
intimidate, offend, threaten or embarrass another child or group of children
specifically through the use of information technology, such as a website or
chat room on the Internet, a cellular telephone or another mobile device. The
actions are deliberate, repeated, and hostile behavior intended to harm
another. Cyber stalking is the use of the Internet or other electronic means to
stalk or harass an individual, a group of individuals, or an organization. It
may include the making of false accusations or statements of fact (as in
defamation), monitoring, making threats, identity theft, damage to data or
equipment, the solicitation of minors for sex, or gathering information that
may be used to harass.

Cyber stalking is a weapon used to
damage the reputation of the victim. Cyber stalking is mainly for revenge, hate
or retribution.. Sexting is the act of sending sexually explicit messages or
photographs, primarily between mobile phones. Why talking so much about cyber
bulling? This is one of the vital question that is to be answered before going
into legal consequences. A new poll conducted by global research company Ipsos
for Reuters News finds that one in ten parents online (12%) around the world
say that their child have experienced cyber bullying while one in four (26%)
say they know a child in their community who have experienced the same. Of
those, a majority (60%) say their children have experienced the harassing
behavior on social networking sites like facebook. Three quarters (77%) of
world residents say cyber bullying needs special attention from parents and
schools while a minority (23%) think cyber bullying can be handled through
existing anti-bullying measures. Cyber bullying in India can evenly be split
between social networking sites (55%) and online chat rooms (54%). Three out of
ten Indian children have faced cyber bullying.17


Apparently, children are not only
vulnerable to the social networking. Many times, adults also fall prey to the
social networking. Adult falling prey to social networking is always a
different issue than that of a child because children who are more vulnerable
than the grown up.. McAfee India director V. Krishnapur said in an interview,
“Only 25 per cent of parents trust their children online without
monitoring them, though the trust levels increase as their kids get older. A
healthy 73 per cent parents counseled their children on the do’s and don’ts of
using Internet.” Most of the children are constructing a barrier between their
personal life and parents. Many social networking websites provide user with a
choice of who can view the profile. In particular, sexual predators are working
round the clock to get victims. Parents sometimes abuse the child by way of
addiction to the games hosted by social networking site like Facebook and
neglect their children causing a child to die from starvation.18  Child pornography is another one giant crime
that is committed all over the world offline. In 2010 it is a largest criminal
case against the children in a social networking site with hundreds of members
dismantled by law enforcement.19  Acknowledging the reality, Facebook says that
it will provide a legitimate on-ramp that would allow a safer, more appropriate
experience for the youngest users20.   Nevertheless, the social networking sites
operate in different countries with different countries having different age
for child. Though the social networking sites provide minimum age to enter into
the service provided by them, they cannot enforce them. Also the verification
of the age is absent that anyone can create an account, there is nothing
preventive in it so millions of children under the age limit is using the
social networking sites. In India above 18 is a age for a person to use the
social networking. A 2008 panel concluded that technological fixes such as age
verification and scans are relatively ineffective means of apprehending online
predation.21  Every social networking site contains terms
of service which provides age limit for its users and others are restricted
from using the site. If anyone creating the account is more likely signing a
contract, if anyone creates an account below the prescribed age limit s/he is
violating and it amount to illegal or misuse of service provided by the website
and obviously attracts criminal action against the violator. The most important
thing is that we need new policies on social networking. Lack of policies
render the crime in social networking undetectable. The conventional laws are
not adequate to tackle the frequently changing cyber crime. Mostly the identity
of the offender in cyber crime is very hard to identify. Tracking the cyber
criminals need experts in that field. In addition, those experts should work in
consonance with the government authorities. In India, the present enforcing
authority is seldom skilled. The nature of the crime against the child in
cyberspace is very novel and so it needs an independent expertise enforcing
authority to implement the law. Mostly these crimes are extra-territorial in
nature and pose a big challenge to the enforcing authorities. Many times
tracking an offence needs cooperation of another country.

DEWING, Social Media: An Introduction, LIBRARY OF PARLIAMENT (Jan 15,
2018, 8:06 PM),

2 (Jan 13, 2018),



5 (Jan 14, 2018),


7 Deepika KC, Children on social media-a predicament
for parents and schools, THE HINDU (Jan 16, 2018, 9:29 PM)

8 UNICEF India, Current
forms of child abuse and exploitation include, (Jan 16, 2018, 8:37 PM)

9 Ibid

10 Ibid

11 Ibid

12 Ibid

13 Ibid

14 Ibid

15 For full
l (Accessed 15/1/18)

16 Section 18 of Indian Contract Act,

17 Ipsos
surveyed a total of 18,687 citizens in 24 countries via online survey
methodology. For more Details in this survey please visit: on

on 16/1/18)

on 16/1/18)

20   Peggy Orenstein, let’s not update preteen to
social media, Indian Express. Jun 12, 2012. Page8

21 nternet
Safety Technical Task Force, Final Report of the Internet Safety Technical Task
Force to the Multi-State Working Group on Social Networking of State Attorneys
General of the United States. 2008 (published 31 december 2008); Mangu-Ward,
Katherine (May 2009). “MySpace = Safe Space” (Accessed on 16/1/18)