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Local authorities have launched a fresh crackdown on a racket masterminded by schoolboys involving the trade of nudes of schoolgirls shared via online services and mobile phone applications which have been used in the extortion and blackmail of over 70 children.

Chairperson of the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA), Dr. Natasha Balendra informed that the NCPA would be coming up with new legislation to tackle online bullying, harassment and blackmail.

She admitted that new laws needed to be introduced if online safety was to be strengthened.

We possess methods of tracing users of various online accounts and surveillance in this regard is ongoing, she maintained, adding that several arrests had been made last year of identified persons who engage in such activities (also through the use of mobile phones), who have since been remanded and are presently awaiting indictment by the Attorney General’s Department.

Even though in many of the cases it is those over 18 years of age that are the perpetrators, when minors are suspects, we speak to the said minor and the minor’s family instead of resorting to taking legal action, she pointed out.

“We will commence an online campaign to encourage victims of the above, to report to us with the assurance of complete confidentiality. In addition, a special phone hotline will be made available for this, for one month,” she added.

She also said that a task force comprising personnel from the Attorney General’s Department, the Police and the Ministry of Justice was also looking into this issue.
“We are going to work with the Ministry of Education and information technology teachers, and also with children and parents,” she elaborated.

Meanwhile, Hans Billimoria of The Grassrooted Trust speaking to the Nation said that school administrations too were aware of the issue.

“In 2014 alone, there have been four suicides in relation to such incidents,” he remarked.
Media Secretary to the Ministry of Education, Kalpa Gunaratne noted that such instances of incidents were generally not reported directly to the Ministry of Education as by their very nature they came to be reported unofficially through unofficial sources, adding that even when reported it was not to the Ministry but to the Police.

Although the Ministry of Education is the line Ministry, the majority of the schools, almost 97%, come under the purview of the Provincial Ministries and therefore such incidents could be reported to the zonal directors of education or the provincial secretary of education, he observed.

“We cannot say for certain whether such reports have been made to the Ministry by victims or school administrations. The Ministry has conducted and is conducting awareness programmes in schools for children concerning unwanted sexual advances. The Minister has given directions for the Police to take action to safeguard school children and to prevent children from getting involved in such. Children are being made aware of attitudinal approaches that are required and the teachers are also being made aware,” he mentioned.