The Tribune, Chandigarh, 11 June 2007
I happened to hear recently a conversation between the paanwallah and an obviously regular customer. The customer was proudly narrating the success story of his teenager nephew who had gone to Australia after his plus two to do hotel management.
The nephew was doing extremely well. His photograph had appeared in the local newspaper. The principal was very happy with the lad. To loosely translate the uncle’s phrase, “the principle was in the boy’s grip”. The principle was in fact so happy that he had presented the teenager boy with a webcam.
Now if the bright student had been presented with a set of books or recommended for a summer job or apprenticeship at a prestigious address, it would have been understandable. But, of all things, a webcam?
My mind raced back to more than a year ago when, during a brief sojourn in US, I chanced upon televised proceedings of a House of Representatives Committee on sexual exploitation of children over Internet. The testimony was given by a teenager boy named Justin Berry as a follow-up of a story that had previously appeared in the New York Times, entitled “Through his webcam, a boy joins a sordid online world”.
In his testimony, Justin said that “My experience is not as isolated as you might hope…” At the age of 13, Justin connected his web camera to his personal computer and posted his pictures on the net. He was soon contacted by men who chatted with him through instant messages while they watched his image on the net.
One afternoon he received a proposal from a man. He would pay Justin fifty dollars if Justin took off his shirt in front of the camera for three minutes. Justin accepted the offer. One thing led to another, and soon Justin was drawn into an internet child pornography racket, where he performed “for an audience of about 1500 people who paid him, over the years, hundreds of thousands of dollars”.
The justification Justin gave for posing bare-chested is significant. “I figured, I took off my shirt for nothing, so, I was kind of like, what is the difference?” In this age of consumerism, impersonal nature of technology and the relative ease with which one’s conscience can be neutralised, what young people do in the privacy of their rooms, they would not mind doing in front of their PCs. Will it end there, or will it become messier? Only time can tell.
Western laws on pornography and obscenity are far more liberal than ours. Their concern is protecting the minors. What adults do is their business. When our children go abroad, do they have our permission to do whatever is legal there, or would we like them to adhere to home values?
In Australia, a webcam would probably cost less than a book. May be a gift of a webcam is innocent. But there is no harm in being careful.