NCPCR taking cognisance of ‘indecent acts between mothers and sons’ raises uncomfortable questions

In the age of social media, the Oedipus complex may be a misnomer for the irresistible urge for ‘likes’, ‘views’ and ‘shares’, but are law and policy awake to the dangers of this challenge? 

THE seduction of social media fame, unresolved understanding of filial boundaries in the digital era where everything becomes a record, and the urgent politics around these issues has resulted in a potent cocktail that can create a legal headache.

Now, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has taken cognisance of allegedly ‘indecent’ acts between mothers and their sons on YouTube.

The NCPCR is a statutory body that aims to protect the rights of children in India. The commission’s functions include inquiring into violations of child rights and recommending initiation of proceedings; undertaking formal investigation where concern has been expressed either by children themselves or by ‘concerned’ persons on their behalf.

The commission also has the power to inquire into complaints and take suo motu notice of matters relating to deprivation and violation of child rights.

Under Section 14 of the Commissions for Protection of Child Rights Act, 2005, the NCPCR can exercise all powers of the civil court under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, including summoning and enforcing the attendance of any person and examining them on oath.

Per such powers and functions, the NCPCR has summoned Mira Chatt, head of government affairs and public policy at YouTube India to appear before it on January 15.

Reportedly, the commission’s letter summoning Chatt flags an alarming trend of online “challenges” that indicate “potentially indecent acts” that involve mothers and sons.

According to the letter, such acts raise serious concerns about the potential harm to children’s well-being and safety, particularly since videos have viewership on the social media platform, and the viewers include minors.

Another report provides more graphic details of such ‘indecent’ acts, pointing out that they involve kissing or lip-locking of mothers and their sons.

As per the NCPCR, such videos violate the provisions under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO).

Evils of social media

Hafsah Masroor, a psychologist based in Delhi, shared with The Leaflet that the quest for social media validation and the desire for more ‘likes’, ‘shares’ or ‘comments’ pushes people to neglect ethics and involve vulnerable populations such as children in their quest for fame.

Social media platforms provide shortcuts for immediate gratification through online approval. The pursuit of such gratification overshadows the moral implications and potential harm for those involved, particularly children,” Masroor said.

According to Masroor, social media can cause addiction that is fuelled by the desire to have the attention of viewers. The need to retain or increase such attention incentivises people to go further and beyond to create content to keep getting the feeling of such a rush, she opined.

A political statement?

Masroor added, “Women’s bodies are extremely sexualised, no matter what they do. Something as simple and natural as breastfeeding an infant child is considered as an activity to be undertaken in private rooms.”

As a symptom of patriarchy, women have to work harder to get respect in our society, Masroor added.

In June last year, the Kerala High Court dismissed all charges against activist Rehana Fathima who had posted a video showing her son aged 14 painting a phoenix on her semi-nude torso, while her eight-year-old daughter sat beside her painting on paper.

Fathima had been booked under provisions of the POCSO Act, the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) and the Information Technology Act, 2000. Charges against her included those relating to sexually assaulting a child who is a relative of the accused, distributing sexually explicit material involving children and cruelty towards a child.

Dismissing the charge of sexually assaulting a child against Fathima, the court observed that the video should have been seen in the context of her long history of battling patriarchy and the hyper-sexualisation of women in society.

According to Masroor, while it is natural for mothers to give a kiss or a peck on their children’s lips, certain boundaries should not be crossed, particularly when children are going through vulnerable stages of sexual development.

Who is the arbiter of a child’s best interest?

Masroor opined, “In the era of rampant misinformation on social media, only a select few possess the capacity, luxury or mental space to engage with online content critically, avoiding undue influence from the digital landscape.”

In addition, Masroor said parents are as imperfect as the rest of us, battling their own unmet needs, which occasionally hinder their ability to determine what is best for their child.

Masroor said that it is important to develop regulations pertaining to what can be deemed fit to be consumed on social media, on the pattern of disclaimers in movies.

According to Masroor, this becomes an even more critical concern because children of an impressionable age constitute a significant segment of viewership of social media content and such acts can normalise certain types of behaviour in their lives.

This can lead to problems down the road, individually as well as socially, Masroor cautioned.