On Friday (March 26), the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) wrote a letter [pdf] to the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry seeking issuance of directions to Netflix for the removal of inappropriate scenes from the ‘Bombay Begums’ web series. The contentious show has come under social media criticism over its obscene portrayal of minor children.
The letter addressed to I & B Ministry Chief Secretary Vikram Sahay pointed out that NCPCR received complaints from 2 Twitter handles against the ‘Bombay Begum’ series for showcasing minor children snorting drugs and taking indecent selfies in classrooms. The Commission reiterated that glorifying such acts through media platforms and OTTs goes against the laws meant for the protection and welfare of children.
NCPCR argued that such vicious content has the potential to create a ‘negative impression’ in the tender minds of young children and lead to an increase in child abuse and exploitation. “Any act of aforesaid nature cannot be permissible and hence the step should be taken to stop such publication at the earliest,” it said. As such, NCPCR took cognisance of the matter under the Commission for Protection of Child Rights Act (CPCR), 2005.
NCPCR points out objectionable scenes in the Bombay Begums series
“It is pertinent to mention that in one of the scenes, a minor girl was smoking cigarette which is violation of Section 77 of JJ Act, 2015,” the Commission pointed out. It said that in its earlier letter dated March 16, NCPCR has requested inquiry and lawful action from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting against such a depiction. However, it did not receive any reply from the Ministry.
“Any such depiction or presentation, which could be a threat for any child’s interest cannot be permissible in the garb of creativity,” the letter emphasised. It pointed out that the series is meant for viewers above the age of 18 aka adults but children were being used to depict storylines and participating in prohibited acts such as consumption of drugs.
NCPR noted, “In the opinion of the Commission, the ingredient to inhale by the child artist is relevant upto the extent of determining law applicable on that child but acting to do any prohibited act, which can be viewed as the prohibited act affects all of that child artist’s age and the consent of the parent of that child artist cannot save makers/ publishers of that act from the offence against children.”
NCPCR calls for verification of the age of girls in web series, highlights the issue of bullying
The Commission pointed out another scene from the web series wherein a girl was seen taking pictures of breasts and sending them to one fellow male classmate. “…The Commission is of the view that the age of all the girls acting in the scene needs to be ascertained, as it seems that minor children are used in that scene, in violation of POCSO Act, 2012 and with the same logic as aforesaid, presence of the parents/mothers of those child artists cannot help makers/publishers to escape from their liability to present the product which is against the law,” it added.
NCPCR also took cognisance of another scene wherein a minor girl was seen commenting on the breast size of another minor girl. It said that the scene was a violation of the POCSO Act, 2012 and highlighted the issue of bullying. “It is pertinent to highlight that bullying is an act, which has lead to a lot of child-related issues as it spoils the complete personality of the child. Bullying in any form cannot be encouraged and that too through a natural biological human cycle,” the Commission said in its letter.
Commission says Web Series violates I & B Ministry guidelines, POCSO Act
NCPCR further noted that the objectionable scenes, cutting across 5 episodes, are against the ‘Guidelines to Regulate Child Participation in TV Serials, Reality Shows and Advertisements’ published by the I&B Ministry. The guidelines stated under Section 15 points out that no child should be cast in roles that cause distress or embarrassment (clause 1). Furthermore, clause 2 of Section 15 prevents the depiction of children indulging in smoking and anti-social behaviour.
The third clause prevents putting a child in distressing situations to obtain a “realistic depiction of an emotional reaction.” The letter by NCPCR Chairperson, Priyank Kanoongo, also pointed that the inappropriate depiction of minors in the series violated Section 67B (publishing or transmitting of material depicting children in a sexually explicit act in electronic form) of the Information Technology Act, 2000. NCPCR also added that the series violated Section 292 (Sale, etc., of obscene books,) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Sections 13 and 14 of the POCSO Act, which defines and lays down punishment for child pornography.
Netflix tries to ‘justify’ inappropriate scenes involving minors
The Commission had earlier directed the online streaming platform to stop the broadcast of the series and remove the contentious scenes. In regard to the controversy surrounding the ‘Bombay Begums’ series, Netflix and NCPCR held a meeting on March 16 to discuss the portrayal of children in the said web series. At its request, NCPCR provided Netflix with an extended time frame to discuss the matter with their legal team.
NCPCR noted, “The Commission received the reply of Netflix dated 18.03.2021, which is an effort made by the Netflix to justify all objectionable scenes highlighted by the NCPCR. However, after a thorough perusal of the reply, the NCPCR is of the opinion that the effort to justify those scenes is a futile exercise and the bad impact of those scenes on children as well as the negative impression about adolescent young children due to those scenes cannot be denied.
The Commission concluded, “It is a fact that children tend to get influenced by what they see or watch on television and thus, it is our moral and legal duty to protect them. It is also important to highlight that films have less reach if compared with the extent of publication through OTT and other platforms in the present era.” It added, “It is further important to highlight that the series is streaming at the time when it has got more viewers than normally any series could have considering the pandemic has shifted classrooms and offices on virtual medium.”
NCPCR recommends I & B Ministry to issue directions to Netflix
“It is clear that the Netflix Series “Bombay Begums” has not only violated the prevailing law of land and guidelines, its continuing the same and affecting children’s interest to a very large extent,” NCPCR reiterated. The Commission has therefore recommended the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to issue directions to Netflix to remove the contentious scenes and take action as per laws of the land to protect the children. “You are further requested to furnish an ATR in this regard within 7 days of issue of this letter, failing which the Commission will be constrained to initiate proceedings under Section 14 of CPCR Act, 2005,” it added.