Can Children Below 18 Years Open and Operate “Facebook” Accounts Legally in India ?

In India, the interest and liking of school students, mostly minors below the age  of 18 years had been in  viewing cartoon movies (Tom&Jerry, Micky Mouse and Donald Duck etc.)  and adventures/thrilling  movies (Superman,Spiderman and Batman etc.) and playing a variety of  video-games.

However, along with the rapid development in technology and easy access of internet through computers, laptops and even mobile phones, the interest and liking of students have switched over to internet browsing/facebook and  they are nowadays,busily engaged in:

  • interacting with known/unknown ‘facebook’ users and
  • inviting and accepting friends,
  • sharing news, views, photos, videos and even personal likes and dislikes.

“Facebook”, one of the most popular and fast growing social networking website globally is becoming very popular in India too.

The use of  “Facebook” is linked with  many genuine and  good uses/help, as well as many bad consequences/happenings including crimes.

Good Things Reported by the use of ‘facebook’ are related to the following:

  • Arranging for’ timely blood donations’ in case of emergencies and
  • Helping in tracing missed persons/children etc.

Bad Things/Crimes Reported by the use of ‘facebook’ are related to the following:

  • Cheating monetarily by acting as friends and sharing financial crisis and receiving money,
  • Cheating by becoming online lovers, chatting very closely, changing lovers, teasing and even inducing to commit suicide of the disappointed female friend/s and
  • Even eloping and cheating for money, jewels and sex etc. 

A Case Filed Against  Indian Minors Becoming Subscribers of Social Networking Websites:

A former BJP leader and a Social Activist, K.N. Govindachary has filed a petition in the Delhi High Court, in June 2012 ,accusing the 2 websites, Google and Facebook of not verifying the personal details of their subscribers.

The Delhi High Court Bench  impleaded Facebook Inc. and Google Inc. as parties to the above petition and issued notices to them and their Indian subsidiaries had responded to the petition.

The High Court has asked the Indian Union Government to explain how it was allowing children below 18 years to open accounts in the social networking sites such as “Facebook” and “Google”.

According to the petitioner:-

  • The agreements entered into by minors with  the social networiking sites  were against the Indian Majority Act, the Indian Contract Act and the Information Technology Act.

  • In a statement filed  by Face Book before the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in June 2012, more than eight crore of its registered users had given false identities and the number would have further  increased.
  • The social networking sites are not following the Indian Government’s “Know Your Customer” norms for all the sectors, including Mobile Phones-subscribers of Telecom Companies and
  • The personal data of the users of the sites are being transferred to the U.S.A. for commercial use, which is an  ‘invasion of privacy of users of the sites’.

According  to -Experts in ‘Cyber law’:-

  • Misrepresentation  of age and other personal data would invite penal action, as creating a false electronic record is an offence under the “Information Technology Act” /IT Act and the” Indian Penal Code”/IPC, and punishable with imprisonment  up to 2  years  and  as and if the account so opened was used for the purpose of cheating, it would be punishable with a maximum of  7 years’ imprisonment.
  • Children  openly lying about their age to create accounts on these websites would have to face legal action and the parents/relatives, who knowingly misrepresent information about their children while opening accounts in their names, could be prosecuted under the IT Act and the IT Act.
  • The online contract between users and social networking sites is enforceable in India and  both  the parties must be competent to contract, and that they must be adults and of sound mind and the contract must be for lawful purposes.
  • Therefore, the online contracts between the social networking sites and minors, if made with the real age of the minor below 18 years will be invalid and if it is known that the age has been misrepresented then again the contract would be invalid and legal action would follow. 

In India, as children of modern days are becoming more knowledgeable and more informed by means of media, such as Television, even minors attitudes and interests are constantly changing.

Most of the minors in India, have started using mobile phones nowadays. In many cases, where both the parents are employed, mobile phones are useful in contacting and communicating with their school/college going minor children.

Children of present day India have become familiar with money and spending, and some parents used to train their children in spending and saving by giving them, “pocket money”.

In the process, banks in India, had started opening Savings Bank Accounts in the names of minors, and allowed them to operate the accounts by the minors, at the age of 10/12/14 years (varied  in different banks in India) , as and when they can sign their signatures, consistently.  However, the use of cheque books by minors will be restricted to only for withdrawal of ‘Cash’ by ‘Self’ cheques.

In the same way, in view of the development in the usage of ‘computers’, internet by minors/students in India,
the laws related to the contracts of minors for use of social networking websites may be suitably relaxed to allow minors to open and operate ‘google’/facebook accounts with some restrictions and control.

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