MPs demand SRE advice is updated for modern era

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Government guidelines on sex and relationships education (SRE) needs to be up-dated “for the modern” era to include mention of sexting and pornography, according to a report from MPs.

The House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee said efforts by internet firms to better protect children online had been inadequate, and they were failing to show commitment to safeguarding children and young people from bullying and pornography.

Young people who were involved with discussions with the committee were unanimous in wanting to be taught to navigate potential online dangers through SRE, rather than relying on technical measures to control access.

The report said: “We are aware (SRE) is a politically contested subject but believe the government should take into account the views of the young people who gave evidence to us of the value and importance of good-quality mandatory sex and relationships education as policy develops.

“In the meantime, teachers have many opportunities to use their professional judgement in advising children both on online safety and on respect for each other. 

“We believe there is scope for providing teachers with clearer sign-posting of the advice and educational resources that are already available.”

The report warned internet companies that they would face prosecution if they failed to show commitment to safeguarding youngsters. Currently age verification processes for social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter were inadequate, the MPs added.

The committee also questioned whether the police had the resources to trace paedophiles online and called for more funding. MPs said there was a “clear need to ensure that the police have adequate resources to track down and arrest online paedophiles in sufficient numbers to act as a meaningful deterrent to others”.

John Whittingdale, the Conservative chair of the committee, said the current “relatively unfettered access” to adult pornography online represented a failure to protect children.

“Those who profit from the internet must demonstrate the utmost commitment to protecting children and should be prosecuted and penalised if they don’t,” he said.

The report said the recent recruitment of an additional seven full-time employees by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) to track down illegal images “might prove woefully insufficient to achieve substantial progress towards ... the eradication of child abuse images from the open internet”.

The IWF said in its evidence to MPs that its “self-regulatory and multi-stakeholder” organisation was very effective at dealing with child sexual abuse content and added that it “remains committed as ever to continue developing and improving the fight against child sexual abuse content in the years to come”.

MPs also called for more prosecutions of legal adult pornography sites that do not take adequate steps to prevent children accessing them. Sites that were “particularly harmful” should be blocked altogether.


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