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World News

Christian charity welcomes landmark measures protecting children from porn

by Premier Journalist

A Christian charity that spent years campaigning for children to be protected from online porn has welcomed measures soon to become law.

The Online Safety Bill has passed its final stages in Parliament on Tuesday, and is expected to receive Royal Assent in October, after years of debate and delay.

It will have a major impact on who and how people access parts of the internet in the UK, with the government saying it makes Britain the "safest place to be online".  Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan called it a "game-changing piece of legislation".

Provisions in the Bill will mean compulsory age checks for all users seeking to access online pornography on both porn sites and social media platforms.  It follows months of wrangling, after the UK Government abandoned plans to introduce age-verification on porn sites in 2019.  Pressure came from some popular messaging apps, such as WhatsApp, who objected to having to scan encrypted messages for signs of child abuse, and threatened to quit the UK rather than comply.

Stiff penalties could be levied against any companies that fail to follow the new rules on harmful content, with Ofcom responsible for their enforcement.

Targeted content includes material relating to drugs and weapons, revenge porn, as well as self-harm, and suicide.  A controversial 'legal but harmful' clause in the bill was dubbed a threat to free speech and removed by the government last year.

The Christian charity CARE supported politicians in pushing ministers to introduce comprehensive age checks, which are expected to be in place within 18 months.

Ross Hendry, CEO of CARE, commented:  “For many years now, CARE has been calling for much tougher online safeguards, based on very well-evidenced concerns about the devastating impact of pornography on our children and young people. With the implementation of age checks soon to be achieved, we are within touching distance of a vital reform that will help protect Britain’s children.

“Most younger children encounter pornography online by accident. Robust age verification measures will help prevent the youngest and most vulnerable kids being exposed to content that is disturbing and damaging to them. For older children, the impact of pornography is evident in the alarming rise of sexual harassment in schools. Our societal response to this issue must involve curbing young people’s access to porn. Pornographic sites glorify sexual violence and amplify toxic attitudes towards women and girls.

Speaking out against groups that wanted to limit the measures, Mr Hendry said: "We require age checks for access to alcohol, tobacco, gambling products, knives, and a host of other materials. It is obvious that a child should not be able to access these things. It’s deeply sad that children have lacked protection for so long.”

He added:  "Parliament has done its job and all eyes now shift to Ofcom, which will be responsible for implementing the new law. Parents across the UK desire meaningful action to protect their children from vile online content. Children themselves desperately need new protections, given the immense harms associated with pornography. More dither and delay with these measures is simply not an option. We urge fast action."

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