Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

Call for web child protection ideas

The Assembly has debated the issue of introducing new laws to further protect children when using the internet
The Assembly has debated the issue of introducing new laws to further protect children when using the internet

New laws could be introduced in a bid to keep children in Northern Ireland safe on the internet, it has been revealed.

Ministers are considering the move because of concerns over the scale of the dangers online. The Assembly was debating the issue on Tuesday.

Recent research revealed one in eight P7 pupils had been bullied on the computer or by text and child protection experts believed the problem was growing.

Executive junior minister Jennifer McCann said: "We must be prepared to consider new ideas and a variety of methods - whether it be the potential for new Assembly legislation in this field, more streamlined messaging or other interventions to actively engage parents, schools and carers."

The OFMDFM minister said nearly half of all children in Europe went online in their own bedroom where parents may not have been able to monitor their safety.

"We must develop a culture of continuous dialogue with our children and young people on the use of the internet. In doing so, we must ensure we are at the forefront of developments in this field," she said. "There is an ongoing need to raise awareness of online risks for children at different age groups.

"By equipping our children and young people with the right skills to recognise danger and how to deal with them appropriately we will ensure that this generation can keep themselves protected and use technology safely."

The charity NSPCC warned local children were at risk and called for lessons to be held in all schools from primary age. It highlighted the risk from internet grooming or exposure to online pornography.

Whilst the best schools were already providing lessons on these issues, the NSPCC said it was no longer a topic that could be left to chance. A recent study by the charity found young people wanted sessions where they can share tips and advice with other young people.

An NSPCC spokeswoman said: "A new generation of social media apps has opened up a Pandora's box of potential danger. Sexting and hard core pornography are now the norm for many teenagers with focus groups describing it as so common it's mundane. Some young people are being targeted and blackmailed or coerced into sending indecent images to strangers or peers. Cyber bullying is a growing and insidious problem where young people can't escape from the intimidation and humiliation of it."

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