Minister backs plan to keep kids off adult sites
Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty has weighed in strongly behind the introduction of online verification codes for using adult websites and social media platforms.
Ms Doherty has urged the Government to examine whether the State's online portal for public services could be also used to verify a person's age when they log on to certain websites.
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The minister said it was time for the Government to find a way to protect children from online material which is not suitable for their age.
"If we want to absolutely protect our children from this environment, well then one way to ensure they can't get on certain websites is to require people to log on using MyGovID, which requires you to be over 18 years old," Ms Doherty told the Sunday Independent.
"It may not work but we need to find some mechanism," she added.
MyGovID is an online account which allows users to access State services such as the Revenue Commissioner, Susi college grants, driver licence tests and farming grants.
Ms Doherty's suggestion follows the drafting of legislation in the UK for the introduction of so-called 'porn passes' which will require people to prove their age before logging on to adult websites.
Minister of State for Mental Health Jim Daly, who first proposed the introduction of online verification codes, welcomed Ms Doherty's suggestion.
"My colleague Regina Doherty has been very supportive and helpful in this regard and it is now a matter of how we can construct a framework and a policy that is robust and that will work," he said.
"Ultimately it will be a matter for Communications Minster Richard Bruton to bring forward heads of a bill in the coming months to address this matter, however it is important that he is provided with as many concepts and proposals to consider as is possible, to assist with getting this new law right," he added.
Meanwhile, chief executive of Dublin Rape Crisis Centre Noeline Blackwell said online pornography is a major factor in a significant number of sexual assault cases involving young people.
"We are hearing about children who know about a lot of practices that frankly you would prefer they did not come across ever or at least until they are older and better able to absorb them," Ms Blackwell said.
"It is about educating people as a whole but it is also about access to pornography. Those dealing with young people are all saying what we know to be true as well, that children are engaging in sexual activity at a younger age."
Her comments come as new figures also show there have been 52 cases of sexual assault by young people committed against other children over the past six years, an average of more than eight per year.
The Court Service data shows the number of sexual assault cases before the Children's Courts last year more than doubled the 2017 figure.
"In 2018 there were 13 orders made in relation to sexual offences of minors before the courts," the Court Service told the Sunday Independent.
In 2017 there were six cases that involved an alleged sexual assault by a child where the victim was also a minor.
Last year also represented a high point for the number of cases over the past six years.
In 2016 there were nine cases, compared to three the previous year. There were 12 cases before the courts in 2014 and nine in 2013.
Ms Blackwell said lessons from such cases could be used to prevent sex crimes by young people on other children.
She said many of the complaints the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre has received in relation to assaults carried out by young people relate to material they have seen online.
"It is not necessarily relevant to the people who come before the courts but we know a lot of them don't have the kind of education and grounding in healthy relationships that they should have and that their information is coming from the internet. By in large it comes from their friends and the internet," she said.