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English Children’s Commissioner backs age checks for pornography sites

Online Safety
1 September 2021

England’s Children’s Commissioner has backed legislation to compel pornography websites to verify the age of users, two years after UK Ministers abandoned plans to introduce the age checks.

Dame Rachel de Souza is calling for “stronger protections” for children, including on social media platforms that allow young children to view age-inappropriate content.

She has urged the UK Government to take several steps to protect kids immediately, before its online safety legislation is considered.

One step is the reinstatement of previous plans to provide for age verification on all commercial pornography sites and regulation of ‘extreme’ content.

Age verification for porn sites was backed by parliament in 2017 but implementation of the measures was delayed and finally cancelled by the government on 16 October 2019.

Earlier this week, CARE warned that The UK Government’s refusal to implement age checks for online pornography has left children able to access porn sites for 16,000 hours.

Chief Communications Officer at CARE James Mildred commented:

“Ministers have refused to enforce these safeguards for almost two years now. This means more than 16,000 hours of children being able to access porn sites full of disturbing and dangerous content that sends harmful messages about sex and consent.

"The government is standing idly by whilst the tools to prohibit access sit unused. It's not clear why they are refusing to do this as the technology for age verification is ready to go. In light of this and the obvious harms of pornography to young people, there's only one word for Ministerial inaction – shameful.”

“Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act is ‘oven ready’. It can be enforced within weeks. We call on MPs of all parties to work together to force the government to act. Children shouldn’t have to wait years until the government’s online safety regime is ready to be enforced. They need protection now.”

Mr Mildred also urged tougher action on social media platforms, including age verification:

“We also support age verification for social media platforms. Young children can bypass current controls on the likes of Facebook and Twitter easily and be exposed to all manner of disturbing and age-inappropriate content. For the sake of child safety, companies must do more to prohibit underage access. If they do not, the government has a moral duty to intervene.

“We’d also urge MPs to think about whether the age limit suggested by companies is too low. On some platforms, extreme content such as pornography can be uploaded by users. These same platforms allow 13-year-olds to sign up. Companies should either change their rules to ban sexually explicit content or raise the sign-up age to 18.”

In June, polling of the UK public found that eight in ten adults want the Government to implement age verification controls for access to online pornography. The same proportion said there should be an age limit of 18 for access to pornography sites.

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