Children should be protected from pornography. Almost everyone agrees with that. But not enough has been done to protect children from damaging images accessed on the Internet or using devices like 3G mobile phones.
Parents whose children use the Internet are advised to take a number of precautions including installing Internet filters and ensuring their children are supervised. But many children are still falling prey to Internet pornographers. Last year the Australia Institute found that 84 per cent of boys and 60 per cent of girls aged 16-17 years old have had accidental exposure to Internet sex sites.
The Institute reported this included images of bestiality and violent scenes of women being raped and that studies show there is a “relationship between pornography and sexually aggressive attitudes and behaviour”.
How can we address this appalling situation, so that children can enjoy the great benefits of the Internet and mobile telephones, without the pitfalls?
One way would be compulsory Internet filtering. The Australia Institute found that 93 per cent of parents “would support a system that automatically filtered out Internet pornography going into homes unless adult users asked otherwise”. With this safeguard, those children with parents who don’t know about filters or who face work or other pressures and are unable to supervise their children’s Internet use, will at least have some limited protection.
The Online Content Co-Regulatory Scheme was set up to protect Australians from unwanted pornography and to take down illegal sites. The evidence collected by the Australia Institute shows that the current regulatory arrangements to protect children have failed.
Earlier this month the federal government released a long-awaited report on the issue. But despite taking two years to write, the report offers little in the way of practical solutions, calling for yet further research and investigation.
The report acknowledges that “requiring ISPs to offer filtering services on an ‘opt-out’ basis could also strengthen community safeguards”, but says it would impose too much of a cost burden on smaller Internet service providers. It costs a national filtering scheme at just $45 million to set up, with $33 million in annual costs, but declines to recommend that the Government pick up this relatively modest tab to protect children.
New third generation mobile phones are proving a further challenge to the protection of children. We should be worried about the potential for damage to children from mobile phone use. A 2003 forum co-hosted by Childnet International and the Japanese Internet Association heard that children can be put in danger through what they might see, or who they might meet online.
The government has referred the issue of how to handle pornography on 3G mobile phones for further review.
There are over 14 million mobile phone accounts operating in Australia. Roy Morgan Research says one in six teenagers own a mobile phone.
More than 20,000 mobile phones are linked to the new 3G or third generation network. These new phones and similar mobile devices, such as personal digital assistants, can allow access to pictures, video streaming and Internet content. To date, 3G coverage is limited to Adelaide, Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.
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