The Children’s Commissioner has called for tougher checks to protect children from the damaging effects of online pornography.
Dame Rachel de Souza says more must be done, both by the Government and internet platforms, to prevent children from accessing pornographic material.
In March, the Government admitted that its proposed Online Safety Bill will not require commercial porn websites to implement mandatory age-verification checks for their users.
Dame Rachel, who has been asked by the Government to propose legislation options on age-verification, told The Daily Telegraph, “we’ve got to put stronger protections in place”.
She continued: “These tech companies are so huge. They are such strong businesses, I really want to push back on them and say: ‘Although you are doing many things, the volume of traffic is so huge, you need to do more to keep kids safe’.”
The Commissioner added: “My view is that you wouldn’t leave a dangerous weapon lying around. We need to get proper minimum standards. I would argue for a strong form of age verification and to protect kids from accessing some really damaging material.”
Senior MPs, commenting on the Government’s existing plans under the Online Safety Bill, have also called for a more robust approach to safeguarding children from harmful material on websites and social media platforms.
According to The Times, Damian Collins MP, Chair of the Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill, said: “At the moment we only have measures that are based on self-declaration. Young children can be exposed to extreme content without any checks.
“My concern is that when you look at incidents of self-harm and depression in young people, these problems have all got worse. We need to look at the role robust age-verification can play.”
Julian Knight MP, chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, commented “The current wording is very woolly. I don’t think it’s going to get through the House unless it mandates age verification.”
Support for change
In June, a poll of more than 2,000 UK adults for Christian Action, Research, and Education (CARE) found that more than eighty per cent of respondents were in favour of Westminster legislating on access to porn sites according to age.
A recent report has revealed the extent to which violent and criminal pornography can be easily accessed by children on the most popular porn sites.
The report, published in the British Journal of Criminology, found 8,000 titles describing physical aggression or forced sex acts on the homepages of the three biggest porn sites – many of which were free to view with no age restrictions.
In response to the study’s findings, Conservative MP Caroline Nokes called for age-verification legislation, saying the report shows porn is giving young people “a very warped view of sex and relationships” and is “normalising” abusive behaviour.