Little done to curb internet porn: TRC boss

By Satarupa Bhattacharjya

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have failed the Government’s expectations in handling online pornography in Sri Lanka, Anusha Palpita, chairperson of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC), told the Sunday Times last week.

“I am not satisfied with the way things are. I believe much more needs to be done by the ISPs to curb the spread of online pornography,” he said.

In July 2009, the Government had asked ISPs to control the distribution of online pornography but sources in the telecommunications industry said that little success was achieved then. In 2008, almost 20 Sri Lankan websites proliferating child pornography had been blocked. However, the use of proxy servers by people selling pornography online and the splurge of money by buyers, seemed to have kept the business thriving.

While the larger responsibility of protecting children from exposure to pornographic content on the Web undoubtedly rested on the ISPs, Mr. Palpita said that parents were also expected to be involved in safeguarding children against being used by people who carried on the pornography business.
The telecommunications watchdog has asked Colombo University to develop “parenting software” to assist cyber surveillance.

The software was being designed for pre-internet generation parents. “We are working towards simplifying the use of technology,” Mr. Palpita said. Earlier this month, a Colombo court permitted the Sri Lanka Police to publish in local newspapers, over 80 pictures of young people who allegedly acted in pornographic films made here. A section of the media that published a few of the pictures came under scathing criticism from rights activists for being indiscreet since many of the photographs appeared to be those of really young people – probably under 18 years.

The Women and Children’s Bureau of the Police had also identified about 50 child pornography websites.

Police spokesperson P Jayakody while defending his Department’s decision to publish the pictures, told the Sunday Times last week, “We need information about these people (in the photographs) from the public.” He claimed that as many as 900 websites proliferating pornography had been blocked since the last two months and that investigations continued.

When asked about the Police approach towards children who may have been forced to act in the pornographic films, Jayakody said, “We will look into this according to the laws.” Speaking to the Sunday Times last week, N Gunasekara, Secretary, Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs said that such cases would probably be tried in the children’s court in Battaramulla.

In Sri Lanka, laws such as the Obscene Publication and Exhibition Act, the Penal Code and the Vagrants Ordinance, exist to deal with adults who run the business of child pornography. Under Section 286A of the amendment to the Penal Code, “any person who takes or assists in taking any indecent photograph of a child or distributes or helps in distributing such content,” could face jail terms of between two to 10 years and a fine. But whether such laws are strong enough was still being debated by activists.

In its response to a question by the Sunday Times on the incident of exposing the alleged pornographic actors, the UNICEF (Sri Lanka) said, “child pornography is a blatant and serious violation of children’s rights and it should not be tolerated. We support the Government and voluntary groups in their efforts to prevent children being sexually exploited. The privacy and identity of child victims must be protected in accordance with national laws to prevent the inappropriate dissemination of information that could lead to the identification of any victims.”

Between September 13 and October 10, the United Nations held a commission in Geneva on the rights of the child. Apart from Sri Lanka and Sudan, situations of child rights in nine other nations were reviewed.

When the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) which is Sri Lanka’s nodal government agency on child rights was formed just a decade ago, activists hoped that the body would be able to better develop this country’s child rights in the coming years.

NCPA chairperson Anoma Dissanayake was away from Sri Lanka last weekend and could not be contacted for comments on the subject.

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