Re: protecting children from online abuse
As children across Northern Ireland settle back into a new school year this week, many of us will have fond memories of our own schooldays of playground friendships and games as well as perhaps some less fond ones of busy times-tables and handwriting exercises.
Today’s children have all that to enjoy, but their world is now bigger having grown to include the online world and the 24/7 connectivity that brings. There are huge positives to having the world at your fingertips, but these opportunities also come with risks.
NSPCC research shows that the equivalent of one child in every primary school classroom surveyed has been sent a naked or semi-naked image from an adult and one in 50 had sent a nude or semi-nude image to an adult. The Home Office has estimated that 80,000 people in the UK now pose a sexual risk to children online, demonstrating the scale of potential grooming in today’s online world. That is appalling, and something no child should have to experience.
But this isn’t inevitable. Those images and messages are sent through social networks and texting apps, which recklessly expose children to content and behaviours completely inappropriate for their age. One result of this is that social networks have become a gateway to child abuse. Technology has developed at such a pace that government must now force social networks to tackle the problem blighting their sites and that means changing the law.
The NSPCC is therefore calling on the UK government to create an independent regulator, with the power to investigate and to fine social networks which fall short. Sites must be required to take proactive steps to detect grooming, so that abuse can be disrupted before it escalates.
In Northern Ireland, there is an urgent need for political parties to work together in an Executive to oversee an e-strategy strategy to protect children in Northern Ireland. It is very disappointing that this has been stalled because of the ongoing problems at Stormont.
Of course, parents also need to take steps to ensure their children are as safe as possible online and the NSPCC has a resources on its website where parents can go for help. And we must also teach children online safety in schools so that they can take steps to guard against online harms and be savvy about what is risky. But online platforms should be built to be safe in the first place, just like any other product used by children.
Social networks must be properly regulated for the sake of children today and for generations to come and governments at Westminster and Stormont have a vital role in making this happen.
Policy and Public Affairs Manager,
NSPCC Northern Ireland.