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CARE demands action now on age verification for porn sites

A Christian advocacy group has demanded there must be no more delays in implementing age-verification tools on pornography websites after revelations that children as young as seven have accessed such material online.

The findings come following a survey by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), which revealed more than half of children barely in their teens saying that they had stumbled across pornography, with the majority saying it was unintentional.

Fifty one per cent of those aged 11 to 13 reported that they had seen pornography at some point, increasing to 66 per cent among 14-15 year-olds.

Christian Action Research & Education (CARE) said the findings were “shocking but unsurprising”.

“For years, we have known that our young people are accessing pornographic content at a very young age,” James Mildred, CARE’s communications manager, told The Catholic Universe.

Children who took part in the research said they felt “grossed out” and “confused” when they saw the content, particularly those under the age of 10.

Girls also shared their concerns about aggressive depictions of sex, which could be normalised by young boys watching pornography, who then attempt to copy it in real-life sexual encounters.

“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,” Mr Mildred said.

In this context, he insisted that age-verification on pornographic sites is an absolute must, as it would ensure that young people are given the same level of protection online as they are offline.

“Of course, we know age-verification is not a silver bullet and needs to be complemented by other measures and parents have a particularly important role to play in making sure they are aware of the dangers and the steps to take to protect children online,” Mr Mildred said.

He pointed out that the Digital Economy Act made provisions for an age-verification scheme, which CARE wholeheartedly supports.

“That scheme has faced multiple delays, the last due to a ridiculous oversight by the Government,” he said.

“We were told in the summer that the scheme would be introduced ‘later this year’.

“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.”

The BBFC was chosen to be the regulator for the delayed age verification measures online, which will force commercial pornography websites to carry out robust age verification checks on users or face having payment services withdrawn or being blocked for UK internet users.

People would have to prove their age in a number of ways, including using traditional forms of ID such as a credit card or passport, or by buying an over-the-counter card from shops where verification would take place face to face.

The tighter controls were due to come into force on 15th July, but were pushed back after the Government failed to notify the European Commission about certain aspects of the plan.

According to the survey, more than eight in ten parents agreed that there should be age-verification controls in place for online pornography, with just under half of children saying that the plan was a good idea – though 11-13 year-olds were more in favour than older teenagers.

“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,” said David Austin, chief executive of the BBFC.

“The research also shows that when young children – in some cases as young as seven or eight years old – first see pornography online, it is most commonly not on purpose.”

Mr Austin also said it is “very encouraging” to see so much public support for age verification. He echoed Mr Mildred’s admission that age-verification is not a ‘silver bullet’ and that it should not be seen in isolation, but alongside other measures, such as education.

“However, age-verification significantly reduces the risk of young children stumbling across online pornography by accident as they do today,” he added.

“The research findings today have shown that parents and importantly, young people and children, want and need there to be stronger controls in place.”

The report also highlighted a difference between what parents thought their child had seen and what they had actually seen.

Three quarters of parents did not believe their child has seen pornography online, but 53 per cent of children said they had.

Picture: A young girl on a laptop. (Ben Welsh/Zuma Press/PA).

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