NEW DELHI: Trishna Saikia (name changed) could not believe it when her best friend created a fake profile of her on a social networking site and sent derogatory messages to common friends in a bid to get back at Saikia for dating a boy she liked.
"She used my personal images and insulted me on a public forum," the victim related.
Like Saikia, many young girls and boys fall prey to online abuse and cyberbullying, which experts describe as "the intentional use of harmful words to put another person down."
"Cyberbullying is a typical type of online harassment, which can be defined as hurling harsh, rude, insulting, teasing remarks through the message box or in open forums targeting one's body shape and structure, educational qualifications, professional qualifications, family, gender orientation, personal habits and outlook," Debarati Halder, advocate and managing director, Centre for Cyber Victim Counselling, told IANS.
Online abuse was a larger term that may include cyberbullying, stalking, revenge, online defamation, leaking of private information and hacking.
"It is that sort of abuse which is carried out with the aid of cyberspace," she said.
According to the 'Tweens, Teens and Technology 2014 Report' by McAfee, 50% of Indian youth have had some experience with cyberbullying (been cyberbullied online or witnessed others being so treated), out of which one-third (36%) have themselves been cyberbullied.
It added that of the 33% said they have witnessed cyberbullying of others, 46% said the victims deleted their social media accounts and 42% said the victims became less social, underscoring its significant emotional impact.
Delhi-based Anja Kovacs, project director of the Internet Democracy Project, said that the increase seems to mostly have kept pace with the growth of internet penetration.
"As more and more people have come online, more and more abuse can be seen as well," Kovacs told IANS.
"Bullying in general, not simply online, is something that schools should take up. It is important to discuss with young people the harmful effects of bullying. Even bullies have often been the victim of bullying at some point in time. Bringing out those experiences can be a valuable starting point for a conversation about this with children," Kovacs said.
According to Deputy Commissioner of Police (Economic Offences Wing) Rajneesh Garg "we have yet to get any complaint regarding cyberbullying."
"If a teenager or a juvenile puts any defamatory writing or pornographic picture on others on Facebook page, this can be dealt with under the relevant sections of the IT Act," Garg, who also handles cybercrime cases, told IANS.
"In such a case, a minor is sent to a reformatory home, while a major will have to face a term of around five years," he added.
Sameer Malhotra, director, Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Max Hospitals, who treats approximately two to three such cases in a month, said that the effects on the victim include low self-esteem, depression, feelings of loneliness/emptiness, anxiety related symptoms and psychosomatic problems.
One can even be driven to acts of self harm, anger outbursts, disturbed sleep-wake schedule, paranoia and a feeling of insecurity.
So, are there no laws that deal with children affected with cyberbullying and online abuse?
"There is no law that deals with cyberbullying and online abuse specifically directed at children, nor should there be. The criminalization of speech is only acceptable in a very narrow set of cases, as the Supreme Court has again stressed in its recent judgment on the Shreya Singhal case (striking down section 66A of the IT Act). Bullying, as well as verbal online abuse of women in fact, in many cases does not fall within those parameters," Kovacs explained.
Because the law "doesn't and shouldn't apply in so many cases of abuse", non-legal measures to address the problem should be looked at, she added.
Stressing that sensitization was a must, Halder said: "NGO-police and NGO-stakeholders or expert-stakeholder partnerships are a must. Above all, government should consider creating good laws regulating bad speech on the internet."
Noting that 13+ is the age most complaints come from, Rakshit Tandon, advisor to the cybercrime cell of the Gurgaon police said many such cases go unreported.
"...or we can say people are not aware of how and where to report; and many other factors also stop them from reporting. Awareness, education and cyberlaw should be taught to children. (It should be taught) right from the basic classes as a subject, as we learn moral science which prepares us for moral values in life same way cyber hygiene/netiquette and digital moral science should be taught to netizens," Tandon told IANS.