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Children’s and Youth Charities call for Online Child Safety to be a Priority in new Programme for Government

Bill to be updated to ensure protection of children and young people online

Today (04.06.2020), Children and Youth Charities, the Children’s Rights Alliance, CyberSafeIreland, Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, Barnardos, ISPCC, One in Four and SpunOut.ie are reiterating their joint call for child safety online to be a priority in the new Programme for Government and post Covid-19 plans, with the establishment of an appropriate Online Safety Commissioner.

Today the groups are amplifying this message by hosting a webinar panel discussion with representatives from each of the political parties about child safety online, chaired by former Senator Jillian van Turnhout. Confirmed political representatives include: Alan Farrell TD, Fine Gael; Patrick Costello TD, Green Party; Jennifer Whitmore TD, Social Democrats; Kathleen Funchion TD,Sinn Féin; and Senator Annie Hoey, The Labour Party.

While there is consensus among the political parties for the need to establish an Online Safety Commissioner, the coalition wants the new Programme for Government to include the publication of an amended General Scheme of the Online Safety Media Regulation Bill 2019 that provides specific measures to protect children and young people online. These include establishing an Online Safety Commissioner with a Code of Practice for service providers, a mechanism for complaints from individuals, the statutory powers to tackle online companies that contravene the Code through the courts, and increased resources for An Garda Síochána.

The Children’s Rights Alliance and its members want the current Bill to be amended so that it clearly sets out specific provisions to protect children and young people online – otherwise, the Online Safety Commissioner will not do what is needed, or what the public understand it will do, to eliminate abuse and protect children and young people online.

The need to provide for their future safety is at its greatest with children and young people spending even more of their time online owing to Covid-19. Furthermore, findings from a World Health Organisation study* (pre-Covid) found that Irish children are in the Top 10 when it comes to ‘problematic social media use’, with Irish 13-year-olds ranking the fifth-highest to report problematic social media use.

The coalition maintains that child safety online needs to be tackled on multiple fronts – across regulation, empowerment and enforcement – and says the current Bill needs to be amended to provide for the following:

  • The establishment of an appropriately resourced Online Safety Commissioner, as part of the Media Commission
  • The Online Safety Commissioner to publish a Code of Practice on digital/online safety to include an efficient ‘take-down procedure’
  • The Online Safety Commissioner to be granted robust statutory powers to sanction companies who do not comply with the Code
  • The provision of a complaints mechanism for individuals to ensure that vulnerable children and young people whose rights are not respected by the online/digital sector have access to a remedy
  • The promotion of digitalsafety and positive digital citizenship among children and young people
  • As well as, more resources forAn Garda Síochána to investigate crimes involving images of child abuse.

Alex Cooney, CEO of CyberSafeIreland said: “There is widespread evidence that self-regulation has not worked and that the need to introduce effective measures is now long overdue. Whilst we acknowledge that the Government is broadly in support of introducing regulation in Ireland, we are concerned that the proposals simply do not go far enough. We urgently need meaningful and robust national policies that will address these risks and protect the most vulnerable. Too often we have seen individuals reach out to us because there are glaring gaps in the system: most recently we had a case of a parent who tried unsuccessfully for more than two years to have videos removed from a platform, which were the source of a serious cyberbullying campaign against her son. The lack of support available to her and the feeling of ‘utter helplessness’ she described is simply unacceptable.”

Maeve Lewis, CEO of One in Four said: One in Four recognises the devastating and long-term consequences of online images of child sexual abuse both for the victims and for the young people who view them, and perhaps go on to act out the abuse on younger children.  It is vital that the Gardai are properly resourced to detect and intervene in a timely manner with those who create these images and distribute them.”

Noeline Blackwell, CEO of Dublin Rape Crisis Centre said: “The online world is a rich hunting ground for many forms of sexual abuse. As a nation, we are really hampered by the lack of effective remedies to stop that abuse or to hold those who commit it or allow it to account. We need legislation that will regulate content. It won’t be perfect because Ireland can’t do this on its own. But the legislation must have the rights and needs of those harmed and those at the risk of harm at its centre”

Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance said: “While the internet has been great for learning and socialising it does have a harmful side, and every young user needs protecting. We really need to consider what is needed to regulate, educate and empower in the online world and this is why it’s so important that this Bill is amended and child safety online is prioritised. Right now, for example, the Bill doesn’t set out a complaints mechanism for individuals so that an individual can complain against an online provider or platform. As it stands, the Online Safety Commissioner simply won’t achieve what we believe it should and it would be a backwards step for human rights if this is not addressed in the new Programme for Government.”

-ENDS-

Contact:

Sarah Dunne, The Communications Clinic, Tel: 085 8535647

Email: sarahd@communicationsclinic.ie

Robyn Keleghan, The Communications Clinic, Tel: 087 1368975

Email: robyn@communicationsclinic.ie

Notes to Editor:

The following spokespeople are available for phone interviews:

  • Alex Cooney, CEO of CyberSafeIreland
  • Noeline Blackwell, CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre
  • Maeve Lewis, CEO of One in Four
  • Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance

World Health Organisation report Spotlight on adolescent health and well-being’. More details here.

About the Children’s Rights Alliance:

  • Founded in 1995, the Children’s Rights Alliance unites over 100 members working together to make Ireland one of the best places in the world to be a child
  • Further information is available at: childrensrights.ieor on Twitter, @ChildRightsIRL
  • TheChildren’s Rights Alliance Helpline is open Mondays 10 am to 2 pm, Wednesdays 2 pm to 7 pm, and during Covid-19 it is also open Fridays 10 am to 12 pm
  • If you have are looking for legal information or advice, please contact the Children’s Rights Alliance on 01 902 0494 or email help@childrensrights.ie.