There is an urgent need to protect children from online pornography, according to a new report by the UK Children’s Commissioner. To tackle this problem, obligatory age verification to watch porn will be introduced soon in France. Ireland should consider something similar.
The UK Children’s Commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza, launched the new report which shows how pornography has become all-pervasive and reveals the destructive effects on young people’s lives.
Based on focus groups and a survey of 1,000 teenagers and young people, it found that 13 is the average age at which children first see online pornographic material. By age 9, 10pc have seen it. More than one out of four had seen it by age 11, and half of children have seen it by the age of 13.
The pictures or videos children have access to are not only obscene but also violent and degrading. “Depictions of degradation, sexual coercion, aggression and exploitation are commonplace, and disproportionately targeted against teenage girls”, says the report.
The age of first exposure is determined by when children first have their own device. Parents should be aware of such risks when letting their children use smartphones or tablets.
Those who were exposed to porn at younger age were significantly more likely to become frequent users and develop dependency, the report found.
The document by the UK Children’s Commissioner also found that frequent users of porn are more likely to engage in physically aggressive sex acts.
In terms of social media or websites, Twitter is where young people are more likely to have seen porn.
51pc of girls aged 16-21, and 33pc of boys, have seen or been sent pictures and videos of people they know in real life. Other research has shown that “girls are overwhelmingly the recipients of unwanted explicit images of male peers”.
In the UK there is no legal requirement for websites hosting porn to verify the age of users, but this will change soon with the Online Safety Bill that is making its way through the British Parliament.
France has just announced that it will become the first country to introduce a “digital certificate” to prove the age of those who want to access online pornography.
This decision follows a shocking report on the pornographic industry, presented by the French Senate. The document that the porn industry “contributed to an upsurge in increasingly violent content, without any control or consideration for the conditions in which this content is produced.”
One of the recommendations put forward by the French Senate report was precisely an age-verification mechanism to prevent children accessing obscene material.
Last year an RedC poll found that 71pc of Irish citizens believe pornography is causing serious harm to society and 81pc of young people believe porn leads to more demands for violent sex.
Ireland should follow France and adopt a similar procedure to keep children away from porn websites.