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Monday 24 July 2017

Radical move to fine parents for allowing their young children to own smartphones - but can it work?

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Stock photo
Gareth Morgan

Gareth Morgan

PARENTS face fines for allowing their children to own devices with unrestricted access to the internet under proposed new laws.

The new legislation would also make it illegal for shops to sell internet-enabled mobiles to children under the age of 14.

Fine Gael TD Jim Daly has been working on the Internet Access for Minors Bill 2017 for several months and believes the State must step in to protect children online.

He also aims to compel manufacturers to develop "child-friendly" devices, with limited access to the internet.

The West Cork TD insisted: "We do need to regulate", citing problems with gambling, bullying and pornography.

Sexting and contacting strangers online, as well as accessing inappropriate content, have also been major issues in the debate over child safety in the digital age.

Fine Gael TD Jim Daly has been working on the bill Picture: Tom Burke
Fine Gael TD Jim Daly has been working on the bill Picture: Tom Burke

"Essentially you're giving your child of seven or eight years of age a mobile device that allows them to access unlimited pornography of every type," he said.

"We protect our children from things like sunbeds by law, just like alcohol, tobacco."

Under the proposed laws, a retailer who sells a device to a minor will be subject to a fine not exceeding €100.

And parents who allow a child to own a device with unrestricted access to the web, or to use a device unsupervised, could also face a penalty.

Have your say: Would a law banning parents from allowing kids unrestricted internet access work?

It is understood that the legislation could be debated in the Dáil before the summer break.

However, Alex Cooney, CEO of CyberSafeIreland, said: "Prohibition does not work. We know this from talking to thousands of children and parents across Ireland over the past year."

He added: "Deputy Daly's focusing of attention on the important issue of children's safe use of the internet is welcome. Whilst we fully support the underlying focus of the bill to ensure appropriate adult supervision of their children whilst using internet-enabled devices, we do not feel that the proposed bill offers the right approach.

"Children as young as nine are regularly accessing the internet, often on their own devices and often without appropriate supervision. We agree that adult supervision and guidance is absolutely critical but we strongly believe that the answer lies in education, not prohibition."

He said that it was vitally important to educate children and their parents on using devices in "a smart and responsible way".

Mr Daly added: "The focus now should be on finding a national solution in consultation with all stakeholders. The Government should focus its attention on putting in place a national strategy on internet safety for children as a starting point."

Independent councillor Keith Redmond also told Pat Kenny on 'Newstalk': "It will basically impose a €100 fine on the retailer for selling to a child, and also a fine on the parent for giving access to a phone with the internet to their own children.

"Effectively what he wants to do is for the State to step in and parent his own children."

The ISPCC gave a cautious welcome to proposals to enhance child safety online - but also said that parents needed to be better educated about the dangers for children online.

And the ISPCC stressed that children might need to privately access some services, such as Childline, which was accessed by 19,000 children last year.

Irish Independent

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