Foreword by Amod K Kanth, Social Development Expert, General Secretary, Prayas JAC Society, a Voluntary Organization, Former DGP & Chairperson-DCPCR & DWSSC
This work is a result of a unique Indo-US cross-cultural, multi-disciplinary collaborative research. The researchers and practicing stakeholders collaborated to understand cyberbullying and digital safety among youth in the Indian context. This book promises to be one of the significant documents on cyberbullying, an area in which very few comprehensive studies and action-based researches have been carried out in India.
An attempt has been made to define and understand the phenomenon of cyberbullying from different perspectives in the cross-civilizational context of the two largest democracies of the world, India and the USA. An analysis of the on-ground situation taking into consideration each country’s respective policy and legislative framework was carried out.
International best practices to prevent and reduce cyberbullying, and promote online safety for the youth have been reviewed and summarized in the document. The best practices are illustrated with examples and easy-to-follow practical tips.
India is the home to the largest number of youth in the world, comprising nearly 50% of its 1.35 billion population. When compared to the USA, the proportion of the youth in India having internet access is bound to be much lesser, but in absolute numbers, it is much higher. The sheer numbers highlight the scale of the potential crisis that the youth might face at the cost of unaddressed digital safety issues.
The World Bank classifies India as a ‘low-middle income economy’ country, with perpetual socio-economic and political distress. Amidst other challenges, its fast-expanding digital revolution provides the most unique background for such research. The majority of Indian youth have skipped the computer-laptop phase and access the internet via mobile devices. 25% of the youth live below the poverty line, however they have access to internet. As on 2019, one in three individuals above 12 years could access the internet on some device.
In urban India, nearly 323 million were recorded to be such users in 2020. However, in response to remote educational requirements during COVID-19, Indian youth lagged behind due to inadequate digital access. As per official statistics, nearly 90% of the school-going children and youth remained mostly outside the purview of the educational programs.
The 2019-20 National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) brings out huge gender disparity. In Andhra Pradesh, only 21% of women have access to internet as against 48.8% of men. Ironically, this partly explains why lesser number of girls are victims and perpetrators of cyberbullying.
The findings of the research, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, are revealing. The pandemic brought into play the best and worst of the digital world, especially for the youth. The youth with restricted access to digital technologies earlier had to keep up the pace with the emerging digital technologies as it made life easier during the pandemic that forced the world to shut down. They had no other option but to chart through possibilities and pitfalls of the medium and learn to be on their feet. Across the globe, the children, adolescent and youth in the age-group of 10-25 years found endless opportunities to hone their digital skills and the unprecedented access offered greater exposure to the digital risks as well. There is no denying that the virtual world is a poor substitute to the real world, especially for the youth.
This book is an attempt to understand cyberbullying and digital safety for the Indian youth, it’s potential risks and measures to mitigate the risks. The authors illustrate the preventive strategies through four concentric circles – with the key stakeholders as the individual, society at large, family and the community in the midst. The focus is on the resilience-based approach of empowering children to become active, aware, and ethical digital citizens with the capacity to navigate the digital world responsibly. Further, the framework identifies the respective contributions of peers and schools as part of the community and the influence of parents and caregivers. Since 70% of cyberbullying, like most sexual crimes, occurs within the family situations, the parent-child relationship is imperative to understand the issues and to find solutions.
This book also provides a holistic picture of the existing policies and programs within India and outside. This would provide a framework for the policy makers and will also guide the research fraternity on the need for the longitudinal action-based studies. Further, the online risks cannot be limited to cyberbullying, therefore the preventive strategies must include risks related to sexual solicitations, exposure to explicit content, information breaches, and privacy violations, etc.
By way of an internationally acceptable strategy which may be applicable to the Indian Youth as well, the INSPIRE (Implementation of laws, norms & values, safe environments, parent & caregiver support, Income & economic strengthening, response & support services, education & life skills) framework developed by the WHO along with the UNICEF as ‘Global Partnership to End violence against Children’, gives a clear direction alongside the global parameters set within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). India has progressed a great deal with the formulation of policy and legislative reforms to provide clear direction towards creating a strong Child Protection System, and ensuring digital safety to combat cyberbullying and related risks. Now is the time to implement these preventive strategies on ground and invest in research to assess the impact on ground.