Protecting Our Children from Online Pornography – a report from Patricia Gibson

North Ayrshire and Arran MP Patricia Gibson reports on another delay in Parliament to a law which is aimed to protect children from accessing pornography.

Amongst the hubbub of the contest to become Prime Minister, it was no surprise to find new evidence of UK Government incompetence.

The implementation of proposals first considered two failed Tory Prime Ministers ago, scheduled to become law this month, have again hit the buffers. Plans for compulsory age-checks on people accessing pornography online – described by the UK Government as a world-first – were designed to stop children viewing inappropriate content, either deliberately or accidentally.

In the Commons I responded for the SNP, to an urgent statement by UK Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport, Jeremy Wright MP, who blamed the latest delay on an “administrative oversight,” meaning it will now be next year before these protections for our children and young people are in place.

This initiative was originally scheduled for April 2018. The hold-up is serious, given this is about protecting children from harmful content. Another six-month delay is simply unacceptable.

Once enacted, commercial providers of online pornography must carry out robust age verification checks on users, to stop children from accessing adult content. Websites refusing to implement checks face being blocked by UK internet service providers or having payment services withdrawn.

An NSPCC survey of over 1,000 children aged 11 to 16, found they are as likely to stumble across pornography accidentally – through website pop-ups or misleading links – as by actively searching for it.

Around a fifth of children who viewed porn reported feeling either repulsed or anxious by what they saw, particularly younger children. The study also adds to growing concerns about boys’ attitudes to sex and relationships being warped by pornography.

Researchers found that 39% of 13-14 year-old and 20% of 11-12 year-old boys wanted to copy some of the behaviours seen. Furthermore, 53% believe pornography is realistic, compared to 39% of girls. The overwhelming majority agreed that pornography did not help them understand consent.

Today’s children are the first generation raised with technology which has taken the internet from the living room, where parents can monitor use, to their bedrooms and school. A third of 11-14 year olds have watched porn on a tablet or mobile phone, and half said it affected their relationships.

It is completely normal for young people to be curious about sex and relationships. The internet lets them access information and obtain answers to questions they may feel uncomfortable asking. However, it is too easy to stumble onto inappropriate sites.

The UK faces a worrying increase in mental health conditions among young people. Failing to regulate access and exposure to extreme pornography can only increase this.

Pornography is made by adults, for adults. It is a visual interpretation of fantasy and most adults can differentiate between fantasy and reality. Children often cannot. While by no means a silver bullet, robust age verification for access to online pornography sites have been debated, and legislated for. The continued delay in implementation only exposes more young people to harmful content and shows up the UK Tory Government for the shambles that it is.