young girl, not more than 12 years old is dressed in a bright pink lehenga and a royal blue velvet blouse. She is standing in the middle of a field and swaying her body, shaking her hips, her chest heaving as she dances to a popular Hariyanvi number that goes Meri jalti jawani maange paani paani. It’s a 15-second clip on a short video app called Kwai popular in India.
There’s another video of the same girl, in the same setting and clothes, dancing with a boy, about the same age, this time thrusting their bodies at each other to another such song.
In another video, a girl about 10, looks directly at the camera, smiles sheepishly and parrots this couplet like she has just memorized the lines: Chadar odh kay sona, takiya modd kay sona, meri yaad aye, toh jagah chhod kay sona. A man’s voice behind the camera prods her: “Aur, aur suna (sing more, more)”. She shies away saying, “Aur yaad nahi (don’t remember more).” (FactorDaily is refraining from translating the lines by the girls.)
The account that has posted this and other such videos has the name Gaon ki Bachchiya (Village Girls). This account has nearly 98,000 followers and 562 videos of underage girls. Some of the videos are of girls as young as two or three years old, lip-syncing songs, dancing in an age-inappropriate manner, or doing regular chores like cooking, filling water pots, drawing water from a well, or having a meal. The comments on the posts have men complimenting girls on their body or asking for more flesh to be shown.
These videos are disturbing, to say the least. But a few minutes spent on the popular short video apps, including Kwai, Clip, TikTok, ShareIt, and others reveal the videos are only the tip of the iceberg of the underlying problem of children and preteens exposing themselves into a deep, dark world of paedophiles.
Short video apps like Kwai have been quite a rage in India and globally in the past year or so. TikTok, by Chinese giant ByteDance, counts India as its priority market had over 15 million users in India as of February 2018. With data access getting cheaper, millions of users are getting on mobile platforms every day. Apps like Kwai, TikTok and Clip aimed at lower- or lower-middle class users in India have found strong growth with demand from vernacular entertainment consumers. Kwai that counts India as its second priority market after China claims to have 10 million to 15 million users here. India-based Clip that counts Shunwei Capital as its investor had three million downloads as of December 2017.
The phenomenon of short videos that went viral among teens globally found its early roots in Shanghai when Alex Zhu and Luyu Yang, longtime friends, released Musical.ly in August 2014. The app soon became a rage among teenagers. In June 2016, musical.ly had over 90 million registered users, up from 10 million a year earlier, and had an average of 580 million new videos posted a day. By the end of May 2017, the app reached over 200 million users. ByteDance bought Musical.ly in November 2017 to combine it with its own short video app TikTok.
In many ways, the Chinese dominate the social video apps market in India. TikTok and Kwai are both owned by Chinese companies. Homegrown Clip counts China’s Shunwei Capital among its investors.
But, this growth comes with its troubles, as FactorDaily reporting shows. “Short video apps are the new breeding ground for grooming underage girls for child pornography,” said Nitish Chandan, project manager at Cyber Peace Foundation, a non-profit organisation in New Delhi that deals with child porn cases in India. In the last one year, the organisation has found an uptick in cases of child sexual abuse, harassment, bullying and blackmail where the perpetrator found the victims of one of the social video apps, says Chandan.
For over two weeks, while researching the phenomenal growth in India of various user-generated video apps, including TikTok, Kwai, ShareIt, Clip, and Vigo Live, FactorDailycame across plenty of racy content often bordering on the bawdy. Scantily clad women dancing to various numbers and suggestive sexual content is rampant across most of these apps.
But, what alarmed us was the content – and, there was plenty of it – featuring underage girls and boys on some apps like Kwai, Clip, and ShareIt. They are seen twerking and dancing suggestively, posing in the bathroom or in a pool, lip-syncing vulgar songs, and flirting with their audience.
It is not clear if some of these accounts are owned by youngsters themselves. Biren Das, for instance, who doesn’t look older than 12 or 13 years, has nearly 6,000 followers on Kwai. She is in a white boatneck top and lip-syncs a popular Punjabi track in one of her short videos. The response of the audience is unsettling: last week, the video had 61,102 views and over 300 comments about her “hot body” and full lips with requests to take off her top. Six days later, the views had doubled to nearly 120,000 and followers almost trebled just short of 18,000. This account keeps changing its name repeatedly.
As we spend more time on the apps, what emerges on Kwai is the most disturbing. If the app is given access to the user’s location, it also indicates nearby users — increasing the vulnerability of and threat to underage kids on the app. Apart from the examples detailed earlier in this story, there are videos of girls as little as four or five years old dancing in a towel, more like teasing with the intent to drop the towel.
To be sure, the problem is not limited to Kwai, though it seems to have the most content bordering on child porn among the apps we reviewed. On Clip, a video has a girl and boy, around five years old or younger, twerking; the boy is holding the girl from behind, grabbing her towards his crotch. The video was likely taken down later. A request made to ShareIt for comment was not immediately responded to and Clip could not be reached for its responses; Kwai’s India head spoke with India and his comments are below.
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