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It has been found that cybercrimes and threats to women online are rising by the day, so that they are the prime targets of some sensitive crimes like revenge pornography and sextortion. Reasons causing this are not only economical, but also social and cultural, that prevent women from using the internet and issues like trolling that pop up when one uses it too often. With the development of a more advanced and digital age , it is of paramount importance to break this gender divide and create awareness among internet users, to help curb the threats and problems associated with the internet and its usage, and also pave a path to reap the benefits of these great technological advancements.

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Why India lags in tackling online child sex abuse

Dec 14, 2021 | Uncategorized

CHENNAI: The content on the dark web, the part of the internet not indexed by search engines and accessed through specific software, is truly a dark world — offensive, degrading and downright horrific. Navigating through it to access child pornography in anonymity is easy. But, so too is accessing such material on the open internet.

Hundreds of groups thrive under the radar on WhatsApp, Facebook and Telegram, exchanging offensive visuals and pornography involving children, toddlers and even newborns. As India grapples with child sex abuse material (CSAM) invading digital platforms like never before, the enforcement authorities struggle with very little tools, skills or knowledge to track the criminals online.

The sheer digital complexity of the crime requires support of global agencies. For instance, it was Interpol that recently flagged India’s high number of online offences. Strangely though, India is not a member of Virtual Global Taskforce yet. Nor is it a member of the WeProtect, a global alliance with heads of states as members to stop online child sexual abuse and exploitation.

Though the country claims to have access to Interpol’s International Child Sexual Exploitation database, of late it depends heavily on US-based NCMEC (National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children) for alerts. Interpol’s database holds more than 1.5 million images and videos and has helped identify 19,400 victims worldwide. It is not clear though if CBI has access to this database.

India has neither a ministry of internet safety and security nor eSafety commissioners — all essential to crack down on the offensive websites of dark operators steering a multi-million market that trades in children’s dignity. The ministries of home affairs, external affairs and women and child development coordinate for international cooperation in cracking child offensive sites and hunting down perpetrators of the crime, said Rakesh Maheshwari, group coordinator, (cyber laws and e-security) of the ministry of electronics and information technology. “We would definitely like to be a part of all these international groups. The ministries are working on it,” said Maheshwari.

Operating without international assistance could prove a tough battle in the cyber world. “The cyber space does not have boundaries. The offensive content can originate from any country,” said Cyber Peace Foundation founder Vineet Kumar. “What’s missing is cooperation among countries, which is essential in cracking the crime,” said Kumar. His foundation, a civil society organisation and a cyber security think tank, has been working on safety of children online. “It is not just the dark web. Children are stalked and trapped on surface webs,” said Vineet.

On January 12, an ad-hoc committee led by Congress MP Jairam Ramesh submitted a 21-page report with 40 recommendations on dealing with the ‘alarming issue of pornography on social media and its effect on children and society as a whole’. A suggestion was that Prime Minister Narendra Modi take the lead in building a global political alliance to combat child pornography on social media. “The committee is obviously not aware that other countries have long since been cognisant of the issue and taken multifarious initiatives in handling this complex crime. In fact, India is just playing catch-up game,” said Vidya Reddy.

The committee also failed to get consensus on a crucial recommendation on safeguards for minors engaged in sexting and selfies. “This was the only recommendation where we could not get an unequivocal view. So, we kept it open,” said Ramesh. Some members felt the possession of all sexual material by minors must be banned outright and some felt that young adults between the age group of 16-19 should be covered under this exception. Some others opposed this ban. “The committee seems to be existing in a time warp, to conflate children watching porn with children used in creating sexual material. We are living in a sexualised world, not just online but in a real-time world too,” said Vidya Reddy of Tulir, a Chennai-based Centre for the Prevention & Healing of Child Sexual Abuse.

In all the rush of hi-tech tracking and trapping offenders, a crucial aspect of creating awareness among children and a specialised counselling of those who have been traumatised are yet to gain traction. “Teachers, parents and other stake holders should be roped in. Counselling should be high up on the agenda,” said advocate and cyber victim counsellor Debarati Halder. A proactive approach that begins with providing programmes to prevent prospective offenders from committing a sexual offence against a child, is a step towards a safer environment.

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