Chapter 6: Evidence to Action: Research and Policy Implications in India

Drishti Sharma; Nandini Sharma; Ritika Bakshi; and Mona Duggal

Photograph of a keyboard, with an added red key with the words Stop Cyberbullying


A comprehensive multi-sectoral strategy is needed to mitigate the threats against youth caused by cyberbullying and online risks. In principle, the Indian policy landscape is equipped to protect youth. It has prioritized children’s well-being, autonomy, and protection against online risks through various policies, programs, and institutions. Nevertheless, the dominant narrative currently is risk-averse and restrictive. It is also limited in scope as it focuses on school-based strategies with limited guidance or support for parents and regulations for businesses. Therefore, it would be ideal to align stakeholders for an effective collaborative response.

We call for systematic efforts to empower children and families to advocate for their rights and enable them to navigate the digital world safely. This requires resilience-focused planning instead of stigma and punitive action. In turn, this means we need to incorporate practical, safe and confidential reporting processes and provide accessible counselling and rehabilitation services. Further, the programmatic action must be based on contextually informed empirical evidence generated within the country. Clear targets and regular monitoring of indicators should be instituted to scope the problem and track progress. Lastly, a response that focuses on institutions rather than society at large is incomplete. Society could hold the businesses accountable for monitoring safety in the digital spaces they create. It could also change the social norms within the digital world where children would feel safe to explore and expand their capabilities.

This chapter begins by making a case for more significant political and financial commitments to promote youth digital safety based on the burden and impact identified in the previous chapters. Next, we present the critical appraisal of India’s existing policies, legislation, and program landscape in light of the insights gained through reviewing the scientific literature to identify the strengths and gaps. We intend to link current scientific knowledge and apply it in India using the existing platforms across multiple stakeholder groups. This includes policymakers, law enforcement agencies, school administration, health care providers, civil society, and research institutes. We will also summarize the research gaps identified throughout the book, especially in the Indian context.

Before going forward, we present choices we have made in defining the scope of relevant terms used across this chapter. In principle, we consider cyberbullying behaviour, as mentioned in Chapter 1, within the broader action area of Violence Against Children identified by WHO.[1] In addition, as mentioned in Chapter 5, ideally, countries should develop preventive interventions that are broad and cover all the online risks including but not limited to cyberbullying. These include other risks like online sexual solicitations, exposure to explicit content, information breaches, and privacy violations that are relatively more frequent. Further, UNICEF – The State of World’s Children 2017 report recommends that children’s digital harm be prevented holistically because their offline and online vulnerabilities are often linked.[2] The report identifies INSPIRE violence prevention framework suitable for preventing digital risks including cyberbullying.[3]

Although we use the terms: children, teens, adolescents, youth interchangeably in this book, however, we identify age-group of 10-19 years as the focus group. The age-based definition of child, adopted by the Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as the Commissions for Protection of Child Rights Act 2005, is a person under the age of 18 years.[4],[5] It includes the World Health Organization (WHO) definition for adolescents as those people between 10 and 19 years of age. Other overlapping terms used in this book are youth (defined by the United Nations as 15–24 years) and young people (10–24 years), a term used by WHO and others to combine adolescents and youth.[6] As this chapter mainly deals with policy and program documents, we will make a distinction between the terms based on which age-group the policy envisions to cover.

We have learned in the previous chapters that digital risks affect a high proportion of young people worldwide. Digital risk exposure is associated with depression, loneliness, anxiety, low self-esteem, frustration, and anger. Further, digital risks are associated with long-lasting consequences for children’s development, health, and education. The current responses to the digital risks that children and youth face online range from directly intervening with youth to devising technological solutions. Globally, nations have taken significant steps in the form of policies and legislation that protect children. These include the development and implementation of school-level policies to address digital safety. Because children’s offline and online vulnerabilities are so linked, the risks they face online need to be approached within the context of the child’s total circumstances, including the offline dangers. Therefore, need for a broad vision is critical.[7]

In 1989, the United Nations Convention on Rights of the Child (CRC) created such a vision. It provided strong guidance to participating states on national measures required for children’s protection from violence. Recently, the global development agenda prioritized violence against children as a cross-cutting concern, including concrete commitments under several goals and targets. In particular, the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals identify a specific target “to end abuse, exploitation, trafficking, and all forms of violence against children” (target 16.2). Under the sustainable goal 16, the target is to promote peaceful and inclusive societies.[8] Further, specific target 4.7, under goal 4 on inclusive and equitable education, highlights the importance of acquiring knowledge and skills on human rights, gender equality, promoting a culture of peace, non-violence, and global citizenship.[9]

WHO, in collaboration with UNICEF and the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children, developed the INSPIRE framework for preventing and responding to violence against children. It identifies seven strategies for addressing violence, abuse, and exploitation: 1) Implementation and enforcement of laws; 2) Norms and values; 3) Safe environments; 4) Parent and caregiver support; 5) Income and economic strengthening; 6) Response and support services; 7) Education and life skills. These strategies are delivered through two cross-cutting activities, i.e., multisectoral actions and coordination and effective monitoring and evaluation. The seven strategies under the INSPIRE framework are based on a strong convergence in the research-based guidance. They address risk and protective factors for violence against children at all four interrelated levels of risk (individual, relationship, community, society as discussed in Chapter 1). Most of these have been shown to have preventive effects across several different types of violence, as well as benefits in areas such as mental health, education, and crime reduction.

In the current chapter, we briefly describe the policies and programs under the heads of 1) policy and legal instruments; 2) awareness generation activities; 3) education and life skills; 4) response or redressal activities. Throughout the chapter, we anchor our review of India’s policy or program provisions on the INSPIRE strategies.[10] We also compare the guidelines against what are the most recent research findings globally. The objective is to identify strengths within the existing response and also to identify gaps to suggest areas for improvement.


To begin with, India ratified the Convention on Rights of the Child adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989. Consequently, Article 39(f) of the Indian Constitution was amended to state that the State shall, in particular, direct its policies to ensure that “children are given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity and that childhood and youth are protected against exploitation and against moral and material abandonment.”[11] The child protection system in India is made across several government ministries, such as the Ministry of Women and Child Development(MoWCD), Ministry of Education (earlier known as Ministry of Human Resource Development), Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Legal Affairs, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology(MEITY), and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare(MoHFW).[12] We summarised the timeline of policy instruments introduced in India mapped across implementing ministries in Table 3. In India, a focused response against digital risks among children and adolescents began in the year 2000 with the enactment of the Information Technology Act. But, the issue became popular in India only in the last 5-6 years after incidents like the Blue Whale Challenge (a game where the participants commit to a series of self-harming assignments leading to the final task of committing suicide) gained public and media attention.[13] Nevertheless, there appears to be movement in all spheres with multiple policy instruments launched by multiple departments/institutions. Some were as recent as 2021 especially following the impact of COVID leading to education moving online.

Mapped Departments/ Ministries Before 2000 2000-2004 2005-2009 2010-2014 2015-2019 2020-Present
Justice Ministry of Home Affairs & Ministry of Legal Affairs IPC Act (1860) Information Technology (IT) Act (2000) &
Commissions for Protection of Child Rights Act (2005)
Information Technology Act Amendment (2008) National Advisory on Preventing and Combating Cyber Crime Against Children (2012) Cyber Safety Manual for Adolescents/Students (October 2018),
Online Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation (OCSAE) Prevention/Investigation Unit (2019), &
The National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal (2019)
The Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre (I4C);
Launched a helpline to lodge complaints
Education Ministry of Education,
Ministry of Women and Child Development, &
Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports
Adolescent Education Program (2005),
National Curriculum Framework (2005),
Right to Education Act (2009), &
UGC Regulations on Curbing the Menace of Ragging in Higher Education Institutions (2009)
SABLA (2010) &
National Youth Policy (2014)
National Plan of Action for Children (2016),
Scheme for Adolescent Girls (2017), &
CBSE Guidelines for Schools on Online Safety (2018)
National Education Policy (2020)
Social Welfare Ministry of Women and Child Development National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) (2007) National Policy for Children (2013) Nation Action Plan for Children (2016) NCPCR issued resources on online safety (2020)
Health Ministry of Health and Family Welfare National Mental Health Policy (2014) &
Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram (2014)
National Health Policy (2017) &
School Health Programme (2018)
Information Technology Ministry of Electronics and Information and Technology National Information Board (NIB) [YEAR] National Cybersecurtiy Policy (2013) ISEA, CDAC (2018)
Name of the policy Key Provisions
National policy for children 2013 -Prioritises survival, health, nutrition, development, education, protection and participation as undeniable child rights. Commits to take necessary measures to secure child rights.
-Guided by the holistic child-centric principles and reaffirms the importance of families in children’s overall growth and development
-Holds the State responsible to create a caring, protective, safe environment for children, and to reduce their vulnerability at all ‘public places’. It currently doesn’t identify the risks of cyber-space explicitly.
-Recognises that a long term, sustainable, multi-sectoral, integrated and inclusive approach is necessary for harmonious development and protection of children.
-Emphasises on hearing children’s voices in all matters affecting them
-Stresses child-centric research and documentation both quantitative and qualitative, as well as an indicator-based child impact assessment
National cybersecurity policy 2013 -Its vision is to build a secure and resilient cyberspace for citizens, businesses and Government
-Focuses on enabling effective prevention, investigation and prosecution of cyber crime and strengthen regulatory framework
-Aims to create a culture of cyber security and privacy enabling responsible user behaviour & actions through an effective communication and promotion strategy.
-Stresses on research and development in the area
National youth policy 2014 Aims to:
-Develop a strong and healthy generation equipped to take on future challenges via increased awareness and access to health care services and through increased involvement in sports.
-Support youth at risk and create equitable opportunity for all disadvantaged & marginalised youth
-Create a productive workforce by prioritising education especially via skill development and lifelong learning
- Sensitize youth(boys) against the restrive gender and social norms that normalise violence against women
National Mental Health policy, 2014 -Calls for holistic and integrated action including intersectoral collaboration, governance and accountability to ensure that mental health promotion across the developmental stages.
-Aims for universal access to mental health facilities especially, the vulnerable like children (both in schools and out of school).
National health policy, 2017 -Identifies developmental approach to well-being and thus prioritises child and adolescent health
-The policy envisages school health programmes as a major focus area as also health and hygiene being made a part of the school curriculum.
-The policy gives special emphasis to the health challenges of adolescents and the long term potential of investing in their health care.
-Envisages strengthening the human resource gaps in mental health and intends to leverage digital technology to connect users to specialists
National education Policy 2020 -Lays down Fundamental Guiding Principles, like:
-A multi-disciplinary and a holistic education
-Focus on ethics and human & Constitutional values like empathy, respect for others, courtesy, liberty, responsibility, pluralism, equality, and justice
-Focus on life skills such as communication, cooperation, teamwork, and resilience;
-It recognizes the importance of leveraging the advantages of technology while acknowledging its potential risks and dangers. Also prioritises addressing digital divide.
-Counsellors or well-trained social workers connected to schools/school complexes and teachers will continuously work with students and their parents and will travel through and engage with communities to ensure that all school-age children are attending and learning in schoo


Table 4 outlines the key policy documents in India that lay down the core principles that inform strategies identified for violence (in this case, cyberbullying and other online risks) prevention for young people. In Table 5, we present the findings of the review of the policy documents using the INSPIRE framework. Following are the key insights.[14],[15],[16],[17],[18],[19]

  • Implementation and Enforcement of laws: The Indian policy landscape is strongly supported by stringent legislative instruments that ban corporal punishment, criminalize sexual abuse and exploitation of children. It ensures universal elementary education, and protects children from bullying, harassment, or privacy violations through digital means.
  • Norms and Values: The principles of equity, peace, and non-violence have been enshrined in almost all the guidelines. Consequently, the multiple policies guide specific action against restrictive gender and social norms. The National Youth Policy (NYP), 2014 identifies schemes for changing prevalent social norms that normalize violence against women.[20] One such scheme, identified by NYP, is the Saksham Scheme (for adolescent boys in the age-group 11-18 years). It aims to build their respect for women, among other things. Similarly, the Ahimsa Messenger programme of the MoWCD seeks to promote respect for women and eliminating violence against women.
  • Safe Environments: As these incidents do not happen in a physical space, there have been efforts to make cyberspace safer through policies like the National Cyber Security Policy (NCSP) 2013.[21] Further, the guidelines have been issued to schools to draft their school-level policies for prevention and safety.
  • Parent and Caregiver Support: The National Policy for Children (NPC) 2013 (14) and National Education Policy (NEP) 2020[22] both distinctly underline the role of families and strengthen the case for building their capacity for ensuring effective response and providing a strong social safety net in caring for and nurturing their children.
  • Income and Economic Strengthening: These are especially important given the unequal socio-economic circumstances attributed to many social, political and economic causes. Such causes give rise to the violent acts. Income and economic strengthening activities come under the purview of policies and departments beyond the scope of this book. However, the NYP and NEP emphasise child-centric learning, improvements in quality of education reflected through improved basic literacy, arithmetic skills, digital literacy, and employability and entrepreneurial skills.
  • Response and Support Services: Provision of counselling services for children and parents, treatment programs for juvenile offenders, and foster care interventions have been prioritized in the NPC. The National Health Policy 2017[23] and National Mental Health Policy[24] envision the provision of more mental health specialists to provide better access to services for children. Also, NEP emphasises the presence of specialists like the counsellors and social-workers for effective response.
  • Education and Life-skills: The NEP 2020 identifies holistic multi-dimensional development of children. It emphasizes the enrolment and retention of children by providing quality education and by empowering them and teaching vital life skills. Similarly, the NPC 2013 and NHP 2017 identify the importance of school health programs for making children aware of the risks and their rights.
INSPIRE Framework Component NPoC, 2013 NCSP, 2013 NYP, 2014 NMHP, 2014 NHP,2017 NEP,2020
Implementation & Enforcement of Laws Yes Yes No No No Yes
Norms and Values Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Safe Environments Yes Yes No No Yes Yes
Parent and care-giver support Yes No No Yes Yes Yes
Income and Economic Strengthening Yes No Yes No No Yes
Response and Support Services Yes No No Yes Yes Yes
Education and Life Skills Yes No yes Yes Yes Yes
Name of the law Key provisions 
Indian Penal Code 1860
292 A Printing, selling, advertising grossly indecent or scurrilous matter or matter intended for blackmail
354 A Showing pornography against the will of a woman
354 D Monitoring the use by a woman of the internet, email or any other form of electronic communication, amounting to the offence of stalking
416 Cheating by personation
499 Sending defamatory messages by e-mail 
503, 506 Criminal intimidation with or without the use of electronic media,
504 Intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace- via electronic media
507  Criminal intimidation by way of an anonymous communication. 
509 Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman-via electronic media
Information Technology Act 2000 with amendments enforced in 2008
Sec 66 A Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc. ( Introduced vide ITAA 2008)
Sec 66 C Whoever, fraudulently or dishonestly make use of the electronic signature, password or any other unique identification feature of any other person.
Sec 66 D Punishment for cheating by personation by using computer resource
Sec 66 E Punishment for violation of privacy-via electronic media. The section states that any person who intentionally violates the privacy by transmitting, capturing or publishing private pictures of others shall be punished with up to three years imprisonment or fine up to three lakhs.
Sec 67 Punishment for publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form. This punishment may extend to 5 years of imprisonment with or without a fine that can go up to 10 lakh rupees.
Sec 67 A Punishment for publishing or transmitting material containing sexually explicit acts,etc. in electronic form
Sec 67 B Punishment for publishing or transmitting material depicting children in sexually explicit acts, etc. in electronic form.
Commissions for Protection of Child Rights (CPCR) Act, 2005, An Act to provide for the constitution of a National Commission and State Commissions for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) and Children's Courts for providing speedy trial of offences against children or of violation of child rights and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
NCPR is responsible for continuous monitoring and implementation of policies and legislation related to child rights like the IPC Act, IT Act, POSCO Act, RTE Act and the JJ Act.
Right to Education Act 2009 An act to provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years.
Prohibits physical punishment and mental harassment to child
Mandates all schools to form School Management Committees (SMCs) with participation from parents, teachers and community members for effective governance. The SMCs are given responsibility to draft School Development Plans.
POSCO Act 2012 It provides the protection of children (less than 18 years) from the offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography, while safeguarding the interests of the child at every stage of the judicial process by incorporating child-friendly mechanisms for reporting, recording of evidence, investigation and speedy trial of offences through designated Special Courts.
Juvenile Justice Act 2015 It replaced the Indian juvenile delinquency law, Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, and allows for juveniles in conflict with Law in the age group of 16–18, involved in Heinous Offences (including those related to cyberbullying), to be tried as adults.

Notably, only the NCSP and the NEP identify cyberbullying or digital risks explicitly. Other policies do recognize the importance of protecting children from all forms of violence or abuse and reducing their vulnerabilities in public space. But none of these specifically identify digital risks among the main concerns affecting them. We recommend that the future updates of these policies identify the digital risk more explicitly. We believe commitment from the top takes the form of dedicated strategies which maximizes the impact.


Laws criminalizing all forms of sexual abuse and exploitation of children are an essential part of a strong national child protection system. It conveys a clear message to civil society about how to ensure the protection of children. It provides the foundation for a culture of respect for children’s rights. This in turn triggers the process of social change in attitudes and behaviour that condones aggression.

India does not have specific anti-bullying legislation. However, a range of legislations are relevant to digital risks (see Table 3). One example is the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860, which criminalizes acts such as cheating by personation, sending defamatory messages, criminal intimidation with or without anonymous communication, and intentional insult. Further, sections 354A and 354D of IPC provide punishment for cyber stalking against women.[25]

Similarly, the Information Technology Act of 2000,[26] later amended in 2008,[27] details out various offenses and associated punishments for sending offensive messages through communication services. It includes dishonestly using electronic signatures, cheating by impersonation, intentionally violating a person’s privacy, and transmitting, capturing, or publishing private pictures, obscene material, sexually explicit acts. In continuation, section 67B of the Act specifically provides stringent punishment for publishing, browsing, or transmitting child pornography in electronic form. Further, the legal provisions in the area of child protection especially against sexual abuse were strengthened through the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012.[28] A comprehensive law, POSCO provides for the protection of children from the offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and pornography. In addition, it safeguards the interests of the child at every stage of the judicial process by incorporating child-friendly mechanisms for reporting, recording of evidence, investigation, and speedy trial of offences through designated Special Courts.

Multiple actions have been taken to ensure the implementation of the legislations. For instance, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a National Advisory on Preventing and Combating Cyber Crime against Children, in 2012.[29] The advisory provides a set of guidelines to help state agencies minimize cybercrime cases against young internet users. The advisory defines digital risks such as cyberstalking, cyberbullying, child pornography, hacking of accounts, identity theft, unwanted exposure to sexually explicit material. It defines cyberbullying as acts of harassment, embarrassment, taunting, insulting or threatening behaviour towards a victim by using the internet, email or other electronic communication devices.

Likewise, in November 2019, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) set up an Online Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation (OCSAE) prevention/investigation unit, headquartered in New Delhi, India. The OCSAE collects, collates, and disseminates information regarding publication, transmission, creation, collection, seeking, browsing, downloading, advertising, promoting, exchanging, and distributing information related to online child sexual abuse and exploitation.[30] The unit also investigates the offenses covered under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) 1860, the POCSO Act 2012, and the Information Technology Act 2000.[31]

Ministry of Home Affairs has approved a scheme, namely Cyber Crime Prevention against Women and Children (CCPWC). Under this scheme, an online Cyber Crime reporting portal has been launched to enable the public to report complaints about child pornography or child sexual abuse material, rape/gang rape imageries or sexually explicit content.  This portal facilitates the public to lodge complaints anonymously or through its Report and Track option.[32] Steps have also been taken to spread awareness, facilitate issue of alerts/advisories, train law enforcement agencies, improve cyber forensic facilities, etc.

Implementation and enforcement of legislation are heavily dependent on the institutions that enable it. Therefore, in December 2005, the Commissions for Protection of Child Rights (CPCR) Act mandated a National Commission and State Commissions for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) and Children’s Courts to provide speedy trial of offences against children or of violation of child rights and address related matters.[33]

Further, to conform with values enshrined in the Constitution and ensure the child’s all-round development, the Right to Education Act was enacted in 2009.[34] The Act describes the importance of free and compulsory education for children aged between 6-14 years in India. It maps out roles and responsibilities for the national, state, and all local governments to rectify gaps in their education system to enhance the quality of education in the country.[35] As cyberbullying can create an unsafe environment that impedes learning, it is the ethical and legal responsibility of the schools to intervene. Currently, many schools do not have policies and procedures to ensure appropriate and safe behaviour online. We find the School Management Committees (SMCs) could be an effective platform for prioritizing children’s online safety. Through these committees, parents could voice their concerns regarding the digital safety of the children and ensure that schools create effective policies.

Across the Indian policy documents reviewed for this chapter, childhood, adolescence. and youth were identified as priority age groups for intervention either in one or the other form except the NCSP 2014 which is incognizant to the age of users. However, most of the legal provisions strongly support children less than 18 years. The state may identify mechanisms for protecting vulnerable youth older than 18 years too.

Undoubtedly India has a strong child protection system when it comes to legislation; however, legislation is but one element of a comprehensive response. The impact and success of legislation are dependent on the many factors. These include establishment of strong institutions overseeing implementation, the adoption of supportive policies, promotion of capacity building of relevant professionals, as well as awareness-raising activities. (1) India has the institutional mechanism in the form of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), however, coordination across departments is challenging.[36] We emphasize the role of coordination between agencies to ensure that child-centred values and strategies are consistent across stakeholder agencies and institutions. Additional effective monitoring of digital risks would help to identify the prevalence and public health impact of digital risks. This will allow for proportionate prevention and response strategies. In practice, the effectiveness of the strategies and approaches also depends on the quality and characteristics of their implementation. More specifically, the key stakeholders of the responsible departments have to collaborate with one another and work alongside families and youth to have the desired outcome.


NCPCR works under the aegis of the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India (GoI). The CPCR Act mandates the commission to spread child rights literacy among various sections of society. It also mandates the commission to promote awareness of the safeguards available for protection of these rights through publications, the media, seminars, and other available means.[37] The commission released a handbook on “Being Safe Online – Guideline and standard content for raising awareness among children, parents, educators and the general public” in 2017.[38] The guidelines are based on the principles of balancing children’s rights to learn, access information and privacy with their right to protection through appropriate safety measures. The safety measures are such that they do not restrict opportunities to ensure optimal online learning with minimal risks. Further, it also ensures active role of children based on their evolving capacities and resourcefulness. It brings forth the importance of inter-generation open conversation between parents and children in case of exposure to digital risks and cyberbullying. It puts special focus on the role of parents and caregivers in establishing communication on setting boundaries and active mediation via discussions with children regarding online activities.[39]

Later, in 2018, the commission compiled the statutes concerning violence against children along with a suggested Standard Operating Procedure for each stakeholder in a series of handbooks titled “Ending Violence Against Children.” In the overall purview of violence, the document covers the laws and procedures in place for “cybercrime”. The SOPs in their way of defining cybercrime consider more serious/heinous acts thus covering only the extreme end of the spectrum and missing out on the less extreme yet frequent exposures. The previous chapters in this book provide evidence that prevention programming may reduce risk before it rises to the level of serious crime.

Informational materials could form the basis of programming or supplement such efforts. In 2018, Ministry of Home Affairs released a handbook on adolescents/students that provides broader guidance to adolescents regarding online risks including cyberbullying, online gaming, cyber grooming, email fraud, and online transaction fraud.[40] MHA also disseminates information on cyber awareness and hygiene for children, parents, teachers, and women on its web portal.[41]

The National Council of Education Research and Training (NCERT), published a set of guidance material targeting students, teachers, and school administration separately. It informed the key players about cyberbullying and how to prevent it. In 2018, the guidelines issued by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), clearly identified awareness among students, teachers, and parents as an important component of digital safety. The guidelines recommend that schools use the information available under the Information Security Education and Awareness (ISEA) initiative of the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), a premier research and development organization of MEITY.[42]

Similar to the Ministry of Home Affairs and NCERT websites, the ISEA portal has curated material for children, students, teachers, families, women, police, government employees, and System/Network administrators all in one place. These materials have been made accessible by translating them into eight local languages.[43] The initiative also holds training and workshops to create educational material and cartoon strips for educating the personnel responsible for child protection including police, teachers, and children themselves.

Recently, the NCERT released a short booklet for students on the “Do’s and Don’ts to Prevent Cyberbullying for Safe Online Learning in Times of COVID-19”. The resource book has been jointly developed by NCERT and UNESCO India. It also suggests how to prevent and counter cyberbullying, and gives relevant information regarding the existing legislative tools and helpline numbers.[44]

Initiatives led by civil society, private sector players, and international and local organizations have also produced positive results. For instance, UNICEF launched the #staysafeonline campaign on Twitter and other social media in 2016-17.[45] It was aimed to raise awareness among children on how to safely navigate the online world and how to help each other to stay safe online. It aimed to disseminate three core messages among children: be there for a friend in need, treat others with respect, and advise others to be real friends.  Schools also play an important part in making the community aware via informing children and parents of cyber risks. Our discussions with teachers revealed that awareness has been imparted in school via extra-curricular activities like group discussions, role-plays, and group projects. Further, the schools engage other stakeholders like parents, teachers, and counsellors into discussions on these issues via School Management Committees and in partnership with NGOs.

Despite the efforts made in awareness generation activities, we identified a few gaps. The current messages instil a predominantly risk-averse solution leaning heavily on restrictions. In contrast, a resilience-based, child-centric approach would go a long way in preventing such incidents. It will also help in building capacity in children to effectively cope with and respond to incidents. Further, the “National Report on Safe and Secure School Environment” by NCPCR in 2019-2020, reported partial progress on improving cyber-safety through education and awareness.[46]

Despite the initiatives by the national government, local authorities, schools, civil society, and private sector, a significant number of young people are still not using the available avenues to reach out and ask for help.[47] This is indicated by the gross mismatch of the self-reported prevalence in research studies with the actual number of cases reported by the law enforcement agencies. Evidence suggests that informational websites do not do enough to protect children.[48] The mere presence of such venues is not enough to ensure safety, particularly when children don’t find these reporting mechanisms safe, practical and confidential.


Empowering youth also includes teaching them strategies to respond to risk once exposed.  Many of the social and emotional skills taught in school-based violence or bullying prevention programs globallyare likely to be relevant to the reduction of cyberbullying when supplemented with lessons on online safety. Suck skills include anger management, empathy, problem-solving, etc., In India, bullying prevention programs in schools are not yet a norm. However, social and emotional skills or Life Skills education has evolved through various stages in India. To start with, the Adolescent Education Programme (AEP) was launched in 2005. It primarily targeted secondary and higher secondary (15-18 years old) students. It was a collaborative initiative of the Ministry of Education and National Aids Control Organization (NACO).[49] It focused on preventing HIV and incorporated self-awareness and self-esteem, values and beliefs, relationships, and effective communication within the curriculum.[50] Later with release ofthe National Curriculum Framework in the same year, the focus on life-skills shifted from being more disease-focused to broadly development-focused. Also, the framework emphasized a child-centric holistic development and gave substantial emphasis on quality improvement.[51] These ideals were also mandated by RTE Act 2009.[52] Consequently, the Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) system was developed and implemented across the country. Taking a holistic approach, CCE is aimed at the physical, social-emotional, and cognitive development of a child. The lessons on life skills thus reached a broad age group of students 10-18 years.[53] Recently, in 2020, CBSE integrated the prevention of cyber risk with a life-skills concept based on Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21).[54] The age group of children who are eligible for these lessons now ranges from 3 years to 18 years.

These are some steps in the right direction. Combined with appropriate identification and monitoring of specific measurable targets these program frameworks could translate into effective implementation. This in turn could ensure empowered youth who can navigate the ever-changing networked world.


In 2020, the gross enrolment ratio at elementary level education in India was 97.8% and at secondary level 77.9%.[55] Schools have thus become an ideal setting for promoting safety, health, and well-being of students. Appropriate detection, response, and follow-up to incidents of exposure to other digital risks (including cyberbullying) are required within the school community. Cyberbullying prevention or digital safety programs at the school level that include codes of conduct, school policies, or procedures to address digital risks have been brought into practice elsewhere in the world. These may be adapted for the Indian setting as well.[56] On these lines, the Central Board for School Education issued ‘Guidelines for Safe and Effective Use of the Internet and Digital Technologies in Schools and School Buses’, in 2017. It advised schools to draft school policies on the safe use of electronic devices and implement them.[57] According to the “National Report on Safe and Secure School Environment” by NCPCR in 2019-2020, only 38% of schools handled cyber-crimes and cyberbullying with care. 40% of these issues were dealt with confidentiality.[58] The low coverage prompts for greater action on improving the reach and quality of intervention.

Schools are an inherent part of the communities in which they are located. Initiatives to provide digital safety in schools need to take this co-dependency into account. Ideally school administrators should work together with parents and youth and convey a clear message that online safety is being taken seriously. Chapter 3, provides best practices for setting up effective school-level policies.

We reviewed the CBSE guidelines and found that the advice is predominantly restrictive. It is centred around the installation of firewalls, monitoring software, and instituting strict disciplinary action against children who attempt to bypass these procedures. However, the guidelines mention sensitizing parents and teachers. Nowhere do the guidelines discuss establishing a positive school climate and strong communication strategies or instituting child-sensitive counselling and reporting mechanisms.  In light of the above limitations, it is worth reiterating the choice that stakeholders have in deciding the approach between one that is resilience-based against one that is chiefly restrictive and abstinence-based.

Our discussions with teachers found that they are not seeing cyberbullying incidents in their students just yet. As expected, children are unlikely to report events of cyber victimization to parents or teachers. Often the victimized children tell their friends about such incidents. This calls for building the teacher-student relationship such that students feel comfortable in reaching out to their teachers when they experience victimization. It also calls for an approach that provides students with enough guidance and assistance, so that they can effectively help their friends when their friends disclose victimization. This can be done through reporting the incident to the appropriate parties and accessing resources like counselling. A safe, easily accessible, child-sensitive, confidential and independent reporting mechanism to address cyberbullying is critical to enable students to report events. Employing specialist staff such as psychologists and social workers has been found helpful to deal with students involved, both victims and perpetrators.[59]

Also, based on the review of program documents, the need for restorative processes within school policies can’t be emphasized enough. These processes provide the children who have been bullied enough support to cope effectively and build positive peer relationships. They also provide for the children who have bullied others. In reality, both bullies and victims are children who are often equally in distress and need higher levels of care, attention, and skill-building. For both, the cycle of violence and intimidation results in greater interpersonal difficulties and poor performance in school. Thus, schools should avoid using punitive approaches that simply advance punishment for bullies or restrict internet use for those who report inappropriate events.

Ideally, the processes could include: 1) a set of principles or values that define the role that such processes will serve within the community; 2) training of key personnel in a restorative approach; 3) strong communication strategies; 4) group discussions that provide a forum for building trust and commitment to act; 4) voluntary attendance at meetings in order to bring all parties together, emphasizing a whole-school and whole-community approach, in order to obtain a consensus outcome.[60]

National Education Policy, 2020 identified the role of the counsellors and social workers to make the schools accessible for all without the fear of bullying or violence. The policy envisions social workers’visits with the children and families at homes to guide them and reintegrate these into school systems.[61] Bullying and cyberbullying are associated with absenteeism, detentions and suspensions. Training social workers to detect incidents and respond timely and effectively to such events would enable better integration of the marginalized children and families from low socio-economic status who especially lack skills and knowledge to deal with digital risks.

In addition to educational policies, recognizing schools as the useful platforms, in 2018 Government of India has launched School Health Program to strengthen the existing programs. Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK) (translated as National Adolescent Health Program) was launched in 2014. Initially, it lacked the mental health component. It’s main focus was on screening for nutritional deficiencies, common diseases, and disorders.[62] This program was strengthened by adding the preventive and promotive aspects of health in school environment. It is in line with the overall approach of Ayushman Bharat (translated as Longeval India, it is Government of India’s flagship program to achieve Universal Health Coverage).[63] The program envisages the training of two teachers from each school as Health and Wellness Ambassadors who will impart health and wellness education to the students. The program entails a detailed training plan cascading from national, state, district, and block down to school level. Age-appropriate health promotion topics have been identified. Notably, Internet safety and media literacy along with bullying prevention have been identified as focus areas among other issues for health education among middle-school children. The School Health Program also ensures monitoring of the activities; however, no specific digital safety-related indicator was identified in the guidelines. Further, monitoring on outcome or impact indicators rather than just process-level indicators could further advance accountability to concerned parties and thus provide impetus for such activities.

Similarly, for the out-of-school adolescents (11-14 years), the Government of India launched the Scheme for Adolescent Girls (SAG), earlier known as Kishori Shakti Yojna or SABLA. This scheme aims at breaking the intergenerational life-cycle of nutritional and gender disadvantage and providing a supportive environment for self-development.[64] The scheme provides cooked meals or an equivalent take-home ration daily for adolescent girls; nutrition and health education; counselling on sexual reproductive health. It also provides life skills education; information on their rights and available public services; and supports for adolescent girls to transition back to formal schooling or vocational learning opportunities.[65] Such platforms can also be used to inform adolescents about the digital risks and guide them to appropriate response mechanisms.

Lastly, as a part of the robust national child protection system, the MoWCD also runs a child helpline-1098.[66] Child helplines form an important resource as they can be called anonymously and provide advice and support.  The existing child helpline 1098 network needs to be empowered to handle complaints and counsel children for addressing their problems and effectively connect with school counsellors as well as a network of specialized technical, legal, psycho-social and welfare services.


The broad vision of preventing harm to children should prioritize empowering the voices of the youth in designing solutions. These would also use evidence-based strategies as have been described in the previous chapters. There is a need for comprehensive interventions that would implement these practices with efficient use of our limited resources.

Policies exist to protect the rights of children. But it will require significant education, training, and administrative support within specific institutions and agencies to ensure that these policies are implemented as intended in the real world.  It would also entail a whole of government approach with a coordinated multi-sectoral response that converges to protect the most vulnerable children. Government ministries should share the vision of achieving child and adolescent well-being and development through child-centric program planning. Common platforms where all authorities share the same knowledge and values and provide the same message on youth online safety will be highly efficient, compared to the current practice of having piecemeal information from different sources. Further, the impact of current policies and strategies needs to be evaluated regularly. Thus, measurable targets on child and adolescent well-being need to be included within program planning and evaluation across departments. Efforts should be made to measure the impact of the policies on reducing risk and promoting protective skills reported across stakeholders. Further, department-specific process indicators should be tracked, such as whether there are school policies on cyberbullying and online safety, whether parents have been provided with education on online safety, and whether schools have mental health providers available in proportion to the student population.  All this would ensure stronger implementation of child-centred policies.


Cyberbullying is an evolving, dynamic issue accentuated by fast-paced changes in technology. It is imperative that research work in this field is prioritized and keeps up with the changing technology landscape. Our extensive literature search indicates that there is minimal research on this topic within the Indian context. Based on the information gathered so far, there is a need for more groundwork to understand the effects of cyberbullying, especially in the Indian culture.

Firstly, qualitative research in particular would illuminate youth’s lived experiences of the digital world. Secondly, nationally representative surveys are needed to study the problem of digital risks (including cyberbullying) across various ages and social sub-groups. This would further highlight the burden of the problem in India and help us understand the contextual nuances relevant to India. These need to be kept in mind while planning preventive interventions. Thirdly, longitudinal surveys need to be conducted to study the short-term and long-term impact digital risk on adolescents’ health and development. Lastly, there is a need to develop or adapt contextually suited interventions using participatory research. The resultant programs need to be pilot tested before being rolled out at scale.

Contextually informed and theoretically sound interventions need to be developed at the multiple level. This includes interventions focused on youth, parents, teachers, and the school environment. When it comes to adapting preventive interventions developed elsewhere, it is important to consider not just the cultural dynamics but also the access to resources (or lack thereof). For instance, in the case of India, restrictive monitoring may further harm the already deep digital divide by cutting off opportunities to learn digital skills.

Financial commitments for building research capacity in developing countries by governments, multilateral institutions, and private organizations is important in fostering international research collaborations. Research which is contextually rooted and local is most useful for guiding evidence-based decision making.


The socio-ecological framework explains cyberbullying as a complex interplay of factors between individual, relationship, community, and societal levels. Therefore, any positive and long-lasting population-level impact requires action across multiple levels at the same time. Collaboration among the policy makers, law enforcement agencies, educators, health professionals, civil society, businesses, families, researchers, and youth themselves is critical in preparing and implementing effective prevention and intervention strategies. Any normalization of aggression, but especially gender-based aggression, needs to be countered at a societal level. Thus, the role of civil society will be critical to address the existing harmful social and gender norms.[67]

Adolescents tend to dislike current technical offerings, such as the parental control apps.[68] The reason for a strong dislike is because they felt that they were overly restrictive and invasive of their personal privacy.[69] Thus, we should consider listening to adolescents’ opinions about technologies designed to keep them safe online, conceptualize new solutions that engage parents. We should respect the challenges teens face growing up in a networked world. Solutions by the businesses which offer social networking platforms may be particularly useful. They have the capacity to design coping and response strategies that have effective interfacing and that are acceptable to adolescents.[70]

In conclusion, the current policy ecosystem of India has the necessary groundwork to address the problem of digital safety among youth. Building on the core principles, the next urgent steps are effective implementation and technical support for implementation. Further, there is a need of coordinated action across stakeholders toward the shared goal of providing children with a safer cyberspace.


  • A comprehensive approach including multiple stakeholders such as government policymakers, law enforcement agencies, educators, health professionals, civil society, families, and youth themselves is required to mitigate digital risks.
  • Youth need to be empowered to navigate the digital world safely, to know their rights, and to be provided with appropriate mechanisms to report problems safely and confidentially.
  • Child’s autonomy and privacy need to be protected when designing solutions. Evidence suggests that excessively restrictive and controlling measures recommended by government guidelines and supported by families may increase the digital divide and may not be effective in reducing cyberbullying.
  • The policy ecosystem of India is based on sound principles and sets forth the right set of strategies to take necessary action and prioritize a child-centric response against any risks faced by children.
  • Although no anti-bullying laws exist in India, existing laws cover digital risks, including cyberbullying, in various ways. Strengthening the implementation and enforcement of laws would be essential to promote online safety.
  • Specific policy directives around digital risks for children are lacking. These need to be updated to incorporate current evidence given the constantly changing networked world.
  • Education institutions need to implement whole school policies to tackle school bullying and cyberbullying. Positive school climate, setting clear expectations around appropriate behavior, empowering teachers to prevent and respond to such events, and enabling psychologists and social workers to support families and youth in responding to such exposures is critical. The planning and constitution of school policies and programs should be collaborative, including school administration, youth, and their families (parents and caregivers).
  • Counseling and therapeutic approaches are poorly addressed by current programs. Instruments to address support for parents and caregivers in response to untoward events need to be strengthened using existing platforms across education, women and child development, social welfare, and health departments.

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Cyberbullying and Digital Safety: Applying Global Research to Youth in India Copyright © 2022 by Drishti Sharma; Nandini Sharma; Ritika Bakshi; and Mona Duggal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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