UK age-verification has kids – and parents - at heart

UK age-verification has kids – and parents - at heart

In 2016, a UK report was published on the impact of online porn on the values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviours of children and young people’. The report showed that nearly half of 11-16-year old boys and girls had seen online pornography, and that first exposure to porn was most likely to be accidental, rather than pursued.

From the report came a powerful statement from the Children’s Commissioner for England: there is no room for complacency.

“It cannot be right that so many children may be stumbling across and learning about sex from degrading and violent depictions of it. We need to act to restrict their access to such material and to ensure that they have spaces in which to discuss and learn about safe relationships and sex. It is our duty to protect children from harm and so we must ensure this happens.”

Now, in 2019, age-verification has been introduced to UK law via the Digital Economy Act. From 15 July, all websites hosting porn will be required by law to have an age-verification system. According to the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) – the body responsible for regulating the system – age-verification is about keeping kids “as safe as possible whenever they’re on the web”.

Age verification is not just about kids though. It’s also about their parents and carers. Remarkably, 88% of polled parents supported the UK introduction of the age-verification system. This overwhelming favour for age-verification is not surprising, especially considering that the standard defence offered by the porn industry has been that if kids are accessing porn, parents are at fault. But as Caitlin Roper’s March 2018 Huffington Post article highlights, the cards are stacked against parents and carers, in the porn industry’s favour. When simple key-stroke errors and searches based on cartoon characters can give a child direct access to porn-sites, parents haven’t got a hope of protecting their children. It’s simply not a fair fight. The support from UK parents for age verification is an acknowledgment that they are in a no-win situation to protect their kids from porn and that they need help.

Back to the kids. As John Carr, a leading UK authority on children’s and young people’s use of digital technology, puts it, ultimately age-verification is aimed at “helping children grow up to be healthy, well-adjusted adults”.

And so only one question remains: why would anybody in Australia not want that too? With less than a week until the election, there’s still time to ask your candidate that very question.

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