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Verify age to protect children from online porn, urges Bishop of Gloucester

04 October 2019

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THE Government must introduce a “robust” age-verification system to protect children and young people online, the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, has said.

She was responding to a new study from the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). It suggests that a lack of age-verification on pornography websites has led to children as young as seven “stumbling across” pornography online.

More than 2300 parents and young people took part in the online survey, which was conducted by Revealing Reality and is thought to be the largest study of its kind.

About half (51 per cent) of 11- to 13-year-olds, and two-thirds (66 per cent) of 14- to 15-year-olds) said that they had seen pornography at some point. Yet, three-quarters of parents believed that their children had never watched porn.

Bishop Treweek said on Tuesday that she was “very disturbed” by this statistic. “Unfortunately, we know from research and stories shared in the media how many parents are unaware about their children’s use of different social media platforms, the time they spend online, and the impact this has on them.”

Most young people accessed porn “unintentionally” the first time, the BBFC states. This was the case for 62 per cent of 11- to 13-year-olds. Children described feeling “grossed out” and “confused”, particularly if they were under the age of ten.

Bishop Treweek, who campaigns to counter anxiety among young people by challenging the “lie that who you are is how you look” (Comment, 5 May 2017), said: “The Government must follow through its commitment to keeping children and young people safe online, and the introduction of age-verification in the UK through the BBFC is significant.

“We must ensure that the age-verification system is robust, respects the child’s privacy, and does not lead to undue data collection or improper data use.”

The chief executive of the BBFC, David Austin, said: “Pornography is currently one click away for children of all ages in the UK, and this research supports the growing body of evidence that it is affecting the way young people understand healthy relationships, sex, body image, and consent.

More than 80 per cent of parents agreed that there should be age-verification controls in place for online porn.

A spokesman for the children’s charity CARE, James Mildred, described the findings as “shocking but unsurprising.”

“We know from this study and other pieces of research that, disturbingly, porn is often a form of sex education for children, and it shapes how they understand sex, consent, body image, and healthy relationships. In this context, age-verification on pornographic sites is an absolute must. We need to make sure our young people are given the same level of protection online as they are offline.”

The Digital Economy Act 2017 has made provisions for an age-verification scheme, but its implementation has faced delays. The BBFC is the designated age-verification regulator for the scheme.

Mr Mildred said: “There must be no more delays. Age-verification is a necessary tool to protect children online, and the sooner it is in place, the better.”

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