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Cyberbullying: A Legal Perspective in Sri Lanka


Cyberbullying: A Legal Perspective in Sri Lanka

Introduction  


Cyberbullying, a major issue in the digital era creates significant legal, social, and psychological challenges worldwide, including in Sri Lanka. The unlimited internet access and increasing usage of online platforms have facilitated a new form of harassment that can lead to severe consequences for those who are affected. In this context, it is imperative to understand the legal framework addressing cyberbullying in Sri Lanka, its implications, and the actions needed to address this issue effectively. 


Definition and Scope 


Cyberbullying takes place by using digital technologies, on platforms such as social media, emails, instant messaging, and other online services, to harass, threaten, or intimidate individuals. 1 That behavior could be spreading bad information, sharing embarrassing content, messaging threatening messages, impersonating someone and sending mean messages to others on their behalf or through fake accounts or anything of that nature where the victim is being hurt, controlled, or manipulated.2 Cyberbullying is different from traditional bullying as it can happen 24/7 and instantly reach a massive audience, making it harmful and challenging to fight against. 

 

Legal Framework in Sri Lanka 


Various legislative measures have been taken by the Sri Lankan legal system by recognizing the need to address cyberbullying.  


The Penal Code3 


The Penal Code of Sri Lanka does not provide specific provisions to address cyberbullying. However, it contains some provisions that whereby certain aspects of digital harassment can fall under their purview. Sections 3454 and 3465 of the Penal Code criminalize assault and criminal intimidation. In case a cyberbully’ s conduct involves threats or actions that contain assault or intimidation, these sections could apply to them. 


Computer Crimes Act6 


The Act provides specific provisions that cover the acts of cyberbullying. The Act criminalizes unauthorized access to computers, unauthorized use of computer systems, and the causing of computer-related harm. Section 6 particularly addresses the issue of unauthorized access to a computer which can consist in hacking someone’s social media account and posting content that humiliates them.7 Furthermore, Section 8 relates to the unauthorized use of computer systems which can cover sending intimidating messages or emails.


ICCPR Act9 


The ICCPR Act also provides a framework for dealing with cyberbullying. Article 17 of the Act includes provisions for protecting individuals from arbitrary or unlawful interference with their privacy, family, home as well as from illegal offenses against their reputation or dignity.10 This can be applied in situations where cyberbullies post false stories about another person or interrupt their private life. 


Challenges in Enforcement 


Despite having a legislative framework, there are several challenges to enforcing the laws against cyberbullying in Sri Lanka.  


One of the biggest challenges is that digital platforms offer anonymity to the person behind the screen making it almost impossible to identify and catch them. Additionally, due to the global nature of the internet the cyberbullies can be located outside Sri Lanka, complicating the jurisdictional matters.  


The lack of awareness among both the public and the law enforcement authorities about available legal remedies for cyberbullying is another critical challenge. Victims may not be aware of their rights or how they can report such crimes, while law enforcement officers lack of training needed to effectively deal with these situations.

  

The Role of Education and Awareness 


In this digital world, it is imperative to have a comprehensive strategy that addresses the issue of cyberbullying. This strategy should cover not only legal measures but also education and awareness among the general public. Specifically, the primary education syllabus can incorporate cyber safety education into their curricula to make children aware of their responsibilities when using technology, its ethical and social limitations, and the legal consequences of cyberbullying. Social media platforms and mass media can be utilized to educate the broader community about the harms of cyberbullying and the legal protections available to victims. 


Proposed Legal Reforms 


Several reforms could be considered to enhance the legal framework and for better dealing with cyberbullying. Enacting a specific legislature which deals with cyberbullying providing clear guidelines to authorities. Which will help to avoid large number of ambiguous cases for the law enforcement authorities and the judiciary.  

In dealing with cyberbullying, it is crucial to improve the capacity of law enforcement agencies by establishing cybercrime units within police stations and providing specialized training to the officers involved in digital forensics and cybercrime investigation.  


Finally, considering the cross-border nature of cyberbullying it is essential to work in collaboration with international stakeholders by engaging in international treaties, sharing information and extradition of cyberbullies operating from abroad.

 

Conclusion 


While Sri Lanka has made an effort to address cyberbullying through its legal framework there is still a long way to go as a country aiming to achieve its economic stability by pursuing more opportunities in IT industry and with the government vision for 2030 to have: a digitally empowered Sri Lanka for innovation, inclusion and sustainable growth. 

 

By: Nimali Senevirathne,  DGM Legal of Abans Environmental Services

 

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