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Child lifting rumours lead to attacks on innocents
By Kushal Jeena
The rumours of child-kidnapping spread over the social networking sites are getting innocent people killed in different parts of India creating a serious law and order problems for police as they are unable to allay the fear among people living in the hinterland.

The police have been passing through tough times to reach on the spots where rumours of child-kidnappers roaming around leads to angry mob beating and lynching innocent people. In n attempt to create awareness among the masses particularly in the rural areas that the messages about gangs of child-lifters moving around are nothing but rumours. The top officials in southern states have directed their subordinates to travel across the villages and convince people that messages going viral about gangs coming from northern parts of the country to kidnap children are fake.

The messages that have gone viral for some time in the different parts of the country read like: "Please take care of your children. Don't send them out alone." Some such messages also carry photographs of a man being taken away by the police suspecting him of being a child-lifter. In most of the cases these messages have created panic among people and they thrash all those who roam about suspiciously. Many of such incidents of beating innocent people have resulted in death, thus creating a law and order crisis for police.

India tops the countries that use WhatsApp and other massage services. It has about 200 million active users of WhatApps and other social messaging sites. In the Indian hinterland WhatsApp and Face book are often the primary way people access internet.

A senior police official in the Vellore district of Tamil Nadu state has asked his men at the police stations under his jurisdiction to dispel rumour. They have been travelling on motorbike and auto rickshaws fitted with speakers to make villagers understand that messages of child-kidnapping are fabricated. "That was the only way to pacify the panic-stricken residents," he said.

Two persons were killed in the state on May 9 by mobs that believed they were child traffickers. A man was beaten and hanged from a bridge, and an old woman was lynched while going to a temple, when she stopped to give candies to children. Police say there was no truth to the rumours and that WhatsApp has become a tool for spreading fake news in the country. The security officials say they are struggling to combat the spread of false information on the popular platform, especially messages that preach communal hatred or encourage violence.

The company that owns popular social networking site Face book says that policing false information is challenging unlike Face book WhattsApp messages are private and encrypted and the company does not read content unless a user reports it for being offensive. It said the company is trying to educate users to be more vigilant about potentially harmful messages.

"WhatsApp has made communications easier and more reliable for millions of Indians, including community organizations and local police. Though sadly, some people also use WhatsApp to spread harmful misinformation," the company said.

"We're stepping up our education efforts so that people know about our safety features and how to spot fake news.

In Karnataka messages and videos of mobs dragging a bloodied man on the street and roughing up two unidentified men before handing them over to the police have gone viral with an accompanying message that declared that 400 child traffickers have arrived in the state capital Bangalore.

"Be on high alert, 3 kids were kidnapped from my friend's locality. There were 10 guys distributing biscuits laced with sedative to children. The local people have caught all of them," read a message on a social network that consequently prompted people to press panic button creating a riot like situation.

The political parties have been using social networks to promote their programmes and policies during election period. However, radical elements in some pro-Hindutava parties including ruling right wing Hindu nationalists have been using these sites to create communal tension in a country that is divided between majority Hindu and minority Muslim communities.

"In a society increasingly polarized along caste and religious lines, it becomes easier to exploit that through WhatsApp [messages]," said a former police official from Maharashtra

After a spate of incidents in Northern districts of Tamil Nadu in which members of the public assaulted persons on suspicion of their being child traffickers, police in these districts have pointed to the spread of rumours on social media as contributing to violence. India lacks a proper and full proof law to check the misuse of social media and messaging sites.

The Child Rights and You (CRY) a non-governmental group that deals with the children in a report noted that the number of untraced children has witnessed a sharp increase in the country. The data, available with the Ministry of Home Affairs, shows that the number of untraced children in the country has percent between 2013 and 2015. The total number of untraced children in 2015 was 62,988 as against 34,244 in the year 2013.

"In India, according to estimates, 180 children go missing on an average every day. While the number of children who go missing remains alarming, the number of untraced children keep on piling year after year," a press release by CRY reported.

The number of untraced children in the country has increased by 84% between 2013 and 2015. According to CRY, Maharashtra and Delhi have the maximum number of untraced children. According to a recent Right to Information reply from the Delhi Police, 22 children go missing in Delhi every day. As of 2015, 9414 children have not been found in Maharashtra and 9001 remain untraced in the national capital. The reality is similarly bleak in Madhya Pradesh and Haryana, which have witnessed around 60 percent growth in the number of untraced children in the last three years."While we know missing children are a part of organized crimes, illegal child labour and trafficking, there needs to be a differential structure for investigation to track these children, "said Komal Ganotra, a senior functionary at the CRY.

—[IFS]


News Updated at : Thursday, July 12, 2018
 
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