Abuse material would cause 'untold damage', staying online for many years if it wasn’t for the IWF, Peer warns

Published:  Tue 25 Jan 2022

Child sexual abuse material could cause “untold damage”, staying online for many years if it wasn’t for the work of the IWF, Peers have heard.

Speaking in the Lords on Monday (January 24), Lib Dem Peer and IWF Champion Baroness Floella Benjamin said younger children are increasingly being groomed and bullied into producing videos and images of their own sexual abuse.

She said the IWF plays an important role in making sure these images are removed from the internet, and called for immediate action from the Government to provide age-appropriate online safety advice.

Baroness Benjamin said: “Recent findings by the Internet Watch Foundation — I declare an interest as one of its champions — state that the 7 to 10 age group is the fastest growing group appearing in self-generated child sexual abuse material.

“Without the IWF, this material can stay online for many years, causing mental health issues and untold damage in later life.

“What steps are the Government taking to give age-appropriate online safety advice to this age group, immediately?”

DCMS Minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay replied: “The noble Baroness is a tireless campaigner on this important issue and the Internet Watch Foundation does very important work.

“We are keen to bring the Online Safety Bill to your Lordships’ House and get it on the statute book for the protections it will bring.

“In the meantime, we are taking steps, and asking the Children’s Commissioner to conduct this report was part of that.

“In addition, the new relationship, sex and health education curriculum is clear that, by the end of secondary school, pupils should be taught about the impact that viewing harmful content, such as pornography, can have. We continue to keep that under review.”

Labour peer Baroness Merron said: “Even a single conversation with a child about their online safety could reduce their risk of seeing sexual content or being persuaded to share indecent images.

“I agree with the Minister that the guide for parents from the Children’s Commissioner is extremely helpful, but what further steps will the Government take to encourage and equip not just parents but grandparents and other relatives to talk to their children about online dangers? Will the Government throw their weight behind a sustained public information campaign to encourage this?”

Lord Parkinson replied: “The noble Baroness is right that it is not just for parents but all responsible adults in society to play a part.

“The Government are doing that through the Online Media Literacy Strategy, which we published in July last year, and I have mentioned the changes that have been made to the curriculum.

“We are consulting on how to strengthen that further for the version that will be published in September this year, so we are keeping it under review.”

Labour Peer Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick, said: “Children’s safety online is vital to protect their mental health and protect them from many harms. This is not an issue solely for England; it is a UK-wide issue.

“In view of that, will the Minister, in association with and alongside the online safety Bill, consider a summit of the nations and regions of the UK, so that positive resolutions that will help eradicate this and a plan of implementation to prevent children being abused online can be brought forward?”

Lord Parkinson replied: “The issue is even broader than the noble Baroness suggests. It is international in scope, and the Government are working with Governments around the world and online providers based in other jurisdictions—we do that regularly.

“We are engaging with them on the online safety Bill. Those discussions are informing that Bill, which will be an important part of enforcing the action across the globe that we all want to see.”

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