India reported over 24 lakh instances of online child sexual abuse during three year periods between 2017-20 with 80 per cent of the victims being girls below the age of 14 years, according to Interpol data.
The figures had prompted the CBI to start a massive operation against the alleged peddlers of online child sexual abuse material (CSAM) in India with several websites under the scanner for their liability in hosting such material, officials said.
The Interpol data indicates that content and consumers of CSAM are growing at a sharp rate with one finding reporting that 1.16 lakh queries on child pornography were made on a single internet search engine.
The central probe agency plans to take up the matter with social media websites and hosting platforms under the relevant legal provisions to examine their role and liability, sources said.
"The data from Interpol is worrisome. It shows 2.4 million instances of online child sexual abuse with 80 per cent victims being young girls," a senior official said.
The CBI operation is targeted at 50 online social media groups having 5,000 participants from across the globe who share and peddle CSAM.
The groups have 36 members from Pakistan, Canada (35), the USA (35), Bangladesh (31), Sri Lanka (30), Nigeria (28), Azerbaijan (27), Yemen (24) and Malaysia (22), the sources said.
The central agency will now coordinate with foreign law enforcement agencies of these countries to bring the accused to the book and locate the origin of CSAM, they said.
"The CBI is coordinating with sister agencies through formal and informal channels," an official said.
The analysis of some of the electronic devices recovered during the searches has shown that a lot of accused booked by the agency were minting regular money by disseminating CSAM by sharing links, videos, pictures, texts, posts and hosting of these groups and platforms and third-party storage and hosting platforms, they said.
"These people were earning regular income in their bank accounts linked to such online platforms. The money trail is being followed to work out the backward and forward linkages of the offenders," the official said.
People are being paid on the basis of the views collected by the material shared by them thus encouraging them to share in more and more such groups leading to large scale dissemination, the sources said.
The CBI also plans to coordinate with International Child Sexual Exploitation Database for comparing the child sexual abuse images in order to trace the origin of the same, they said.
In its massive crackdown across 14 states, the CBI carried out searches at 77 locations and arrested seven persons.
The search operation targeting 83 accused resulted in the seizure of a huge tranche of electronic data and gadgets showing patterns of the money trail and the involvement of various offenders giving fresh leads to the agency which are being pursued, they said.
The agency had launched a massive operation on November 14, Children's Day, with the registration of 23 separate FIRs against 83 accused which continued till the next day.
The CBI action WAS was based on inputs of its special unit 'Online Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation Prevention/ Investigation (OCSAE)' which tracks and monitors posting, circulation and downloads of Child Sexual Exploitation Material (CSEM) on the internet.
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