A total of 47 people, including youngsters, have been arrested across Kerala for allegedly seeking child abuse material on the darknet during the Covid-19 lockdown, the state police said on Saturday.
Over 140 electronic devices have been seized from the arrested, the police said.
After detecting a spike in online activity from the state seeking the child abuse material particularly on the darknet, the CCSE (Countering Child Sexual Exploitation) team swung into action, said Additional Director General of Police (ADGP) Manoj Abraham.
Simultaneous raids were conducted across the state early Saturday and the arrests were made, Abraham told PTI.
Many people were being monitored and more arrests would be made after scientific evaluation of the seized equipment that included mobile phones, modems, hard drives, memory cards, laptops and computers containing graphic and illegal videos and pictures of children.
The most distressing part was that many of the videos/pictures appear to be those of local children in age group of 6-15, Abraham said.
A similar trend was found in porn groups operating over WhatsApp and Telegram and number of such groups has increased during the COVID-19 lockdown period, he said.
The use of malwares to activate the webcams of victims to steal information of children has also been reported in many parts of the country.
Abuse of children locked up in their homes is evident and from the pictures/videos being uploaded and shared during this period it was suspected that many more people were involved in the trafficking of children also as there are many chats to this effect in their devices.
The police had mobilised 117 teams under the supervision of IGP (Crimes) S Sreejith and conducted the simultaneous raids. At least 89 cases were registered and details of rest of the people involved in circulating the images and videos were being further collected.
The CCSE unit for Kerala police was constituted in January with special emphasis on preventing online child exploitation and pornography on the net. The team operates in close contact with the INTERPOL-Crimes against Children Unit and the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC).
As per the current law, viewing, distributing or storing of any child pornographic content is a criminal offence and can result in upto five years imprisonment and a fine upto Rs 10 lakh, police said in a press release.
Considering child security as the responsibility of every member of society, the police have sought the support of the community in identifying any such channels or groups that spread child sex-related content and urged the public to inform the Hi-Tech Crime Enquiry Cell, Cyberdome or Cyber cells at the earliest.
Nine people were arrested from Kollam district, while five each were held from Ernakulam and Palakkad districts, and four each from Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode districts.
Three each from Kannur, Alappuzha and Kottayam districts were arrested while two each from Pathanamthitta,Malappuram, Thrissur, Kasaragod and Wayanad were also reported. There was one arrest from Idukki district.