Monday, January 18, 2010

Not Child's Play


With the advent of the Internet and mobile phones the number of Bangladeshis visiting pornographic websites is increasing. Sometimes children are featured in these lurid videos; teenagers also download these sexually explicit scenes and pass it on to their friends. There have been occasions when girl students killed themselves when footages of their self shot nude videos or scenes of their sexual acts were caught on hidden camera and were published on the net. There is no strong law in the country to protect children from the threat of porn. New laws and a social movement against pornography is now the demand of the time.

Bangladesh woke up to the nightmare of 'homemade deshi porn' in 2001 when Suman, a Bangladeshi-born American, came to the country and videoed his sexual acts with three local women. Unaware of the presence of the camera, the women fell into Suman's love trap and were shot in compromising postures. The CDs which hit the market later on carried a commentary that degraded the women. A general diary was lodged, but by that time Suman and his lone accomplice had fled the country; the CDs started to be sold in the shops; of the three women, one has left the country, the other two still bear the shame of being exposed publicly in such a way.

Suman's is not the only scandal to plague the country's CD scene. Taking the advantage of cameras in mobile phones, intimate details of individuals are videoed, sometimes with the consent of willing female friends, only to be leaked into the market. Last week, Shobuj (name changed), a ninth grader at a reputed English medium school in Uttara, was caught at school with a CD. "We have gone through it and to our utter horror we have found that it contains explicit scenes of some of our male and female students," says the Principal of the school who wants to remain anonymous.

The Principal thinks it is difficult to handle what she calls 'this new nuisance', as modern technology, like a double-edged sword, has both good and bad sides. "We have banned cell phones at school, but parents complain that without the phone it becomes impossible for them to contact their children in times of need," she says.

Manusher Jonno Foundation, a non-government organisation, has conducted an extensive survey in the country on child pornography. Its report says, " Watching naked pictures through mobile phone is found to be a common trend among the children (covered by the survey). According to some children, they enjoy bad songs by mobile phone. Also, children are found to exchange porno pictures through mobile phone." The report, quoting an owner of a cyber café, says that a boy and a girl of a reputed school of Dhaka recorded their own sex act and sent it to others by MMS.

"Pornography is spreading among the children mostly by the friends through chatting; drawing curiosity on sex or by peer pressure that insist them to view porno picture or movie considering it as a part of their smartness and adulthood," the report says, "Sometimes they simply follow their seniors at school or college. It is noticeable from their discussion that considering growing demand porno movies are prepared in large scale inside the country too and the children are aware about these web sites."

The children who indulge themselves in such activities just for the fun of it know little about the ramifications of their actions. Shobuj says that he has got the videos through the blue-tooth of his friends' mobiles and has made a CD of all the videos because he wants to see them together.

Some of these videos hardly remain a private affair. "There are several ways a video tape can be leaked," says Shanto, a dealer in porn, who only uses his first name, "We mostly get the porn from computer repair shops, where people send their PCs to be fixed."

He runs a bustling shop at the heart of the city's Hatirpool area and his clientele include 13-year-old school goers to 70-year-old retired civil servants. He says that his collections are the best in town; while some of the CDs show Bangladeshi men and women having sex, the rest contain scenes where children as young as 14 are either shown nude or are making love to each other. Asked whether he knows that selling porn is illegal, he replies, "There are many things, which are illegal, smoking in a public place is one, why don't you go and arrest the person who is smoking in front of my shop? I am merely doing entertainment business. If people feel happy after watching my CDs what's wrong with it?"

However innocent Shanto wants to make his trade sound, only a few months ago pornography has taken the life of a young woman in Gazipur. The girl fell in love with a young man of her age and they had sex in a hotel room. Little did they know that the hotelier runs a secret racket of pornographers who kept a hidden camera in the room. Soon the video made its way into the Internet and within days it became the talk of the town. The girl committed suicide by hanging herself from the ceiling fan.



Her family has not yet filed a case with the police, as it will expose its members to further humiliation. "After the video was uploaded on the net, my daughter's friends started to avoid her. There were whispers on the streets. One day she came back from her college and locked herself up. If only I knew!" Nasreen Akhter (name changed), the girl's mother, says.

Her suicide and an attempted suicide of another girl have prompted the police to request the ban on 84 websites carrying nude photographs and sexually explicit video clips of Bangladeshi girls. In fact there are certain websites on the Internet, which are solely dedicated to Bangladeshi child porn. Shanto says that some of the CDs that he sells are downloaded from the net. In its report on child porn, Manusher Jonno Foundation says, "Few students shared that they and their friends searched for porno pictures through Internet and visited porno websites. They said that they visited cyber cafés and downloaded pictures through their pen drive and later it installed them in their personal computer to watch secretly at home. Some students said that at present mobile phone is being used commonly to download porno pictures, as it is easy to install."

As the net is not easily accessible for most young adults, some go to the cyber cafés only to download nude photographs and videos from adult sites. Sometimes they go through Facebook or other social networking sites to download revealing photographs of girls. Some of them even upload their own photos on these web pages and anyone can download and use them.

Borhanuddin Lascar, owner of such a café confesses that most of his clients are students. He however refuses to accept that most of them use his facilities to search for porn; "Sometimes they come to google for important assignments that they have to prepare for their studies. It's true that some succumb to the allure of pornography; I cannot do anything about it. I have no way to track down whether my clients are doing research or watching porn on an adult site," Lascar says.

In fact, there is no cyber café in the city that monitors the activities of its clients; neither do they track the activities of their children or underage customers. Exposure to porn at an early age can wreak havoc on a child's psyche. A child can grow up being aggressive, he might grow to degrade women and can see them merely as sexual objects. Psychologists believe that watching porn at an early age can give a child twisted ideas about sexuality, harming his sexual life when he grows up.

Eminent lawyer Barrister Mokhsedul Islam considers child porn a big problem and he finds the police request to ban websites ludicrous as he thinks that whenever and wherever the police find any such website it must immediately block it: "What is the point of asking permission?" Barrister Islam asks.


Many young people go to cyber cafés to see x-rated films, as there is no system of monitoring the activities of clients.

He thinks existing laws are not adequate to deal with pornography, let alone help the children who have fallen victim to porn. In Bangladesh the law that directly deals with porn is 149 years old, and there is no wonder that it does not cover the Internet or Multi-media Messages. Section 292 of the Penal Code defines porn as "obscene book, pamphlet, paper, drawing, painting, representation or figure or any other obscene object whatsoever", and hands down prison sentences up to six months to a person who sells, lets to hire, distributes, exhibits or circulates to "any person under the age of twenty years".

Section 292 does not even mention children, and lawyer Barrister Raghib Rauf Chowdhury finds it poorly made to fight the rising menace of child pornography. The Children Act 1974 does not cover child pornography and the act which does: Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Act 2006: does not specifically mention any offence committed by or against the juveniles. "If you talk about pornography in general there is no law that singularly deals with it. Even the Children Act does not carry severe punishment. The ICT Act carries sever punishment with a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a fine of up to Tk 1 crore. But the law is not clear enough to cover the situation that we are dealing with nowadays," Barrister Chowdhury says.

He says that of late he has come across an incident where a girl is threatened by her ex-lover that he is going to publish all her photographs online as their relationship has broken up. "It has become so rampant that new laws need to be enacted," Barrister Chowdhury says.

According to the 57/1 of ICT Act a person will be considered guilty if he willingly publishes or transmits anything untrue or vulgar on the internet or in any other electronic format or after reading or hearing of which a person becomes inspired to become corrupt or dishonest; or anything that can cause defamation; deterioration of law and order; or can create a situation that may lead to the deterioration of law and order; or can harm the image of a person or state; or hurt the religious sentiments; or can give incite against any individual or organisation.


The law is inadequate to fight child pornography.
Barrister Chowdhury thinks the ICT Act is meant more for the television channels than the pornographers or owners of pornographic sites. Colonel Mizanur Rahman Khan, Additional Director General of the Rapid Action Battalion (Rab), agrees. He says, "If the law were strong, the criminals would have thought twice before starting their dastardly acts. A stringent law that will curb cyber crime with an iron hand is the demand of the time."

Col Khan, a father himself, thinks to give or not to give mobile phone to one's child is one of the toughest challenges that a parent faces nowadays. "When I was a teenager, we used to go to school early in the morning and get back home in the evening after playing in the field. There was no security concern at the time, my parents were sure where we were; they knew that we were safe and sound. But it is not the same now, I always worry when my child goes out of home and because of the cell phone I can communicate with my child," he says.

Yet he thinks, except for the blessings part, mobile phone is also a curse in disguise. "Only a few days ago the Rab has caught some criminals from Farmgate who were uploading porn on mobile phones at 200 taka per cell phones. We act whenever we get a whiff of porn," Col Khan says.

One of the prized feathers in Rab's crown is the arrests of some criminals who, as a gang, were kidnapping and raping young girls and videoed their acts. Acting on a tip off the elite crime-busting unit nabbed all the criminals of the group, which was stationed in Savar. "It is a social crime and whenever we find any crime we act promptly," Col Khan says.

He believes that as it is a social crime, Rab is not enough to handle it. He thinks a social movement is needed to make people aware against child porn. "After we have raised the issue of yaba, the newspapers have taken up the issue and our joint efforts have kept the use of this illegal substance to the bare minimum," he says.

Col Khan also suggests strong vigilance of the law enforcing agencies. On top of it all he puts the outmost emphasis on making children and young adults aware of the tentacles of pornography. "At the end of the day only a social movement can raise awareness against child porn, as law enforcers we can only kill the source, but if the demand is there the many-headed monster of porn can creep up again in a different form," he says.