New Telegraph

France Struggling To Eradicate Child Pornography

Despite legal measures put in place to protect youngsters from pornography online, a new study shows a one-third of France’s under-18s look at porn websites at least once a month, including boys as young as ten years old.

A study published this week by France’s media regulator, Arcom has lifted the lid on the extent to which youngsters are consuming porn.

It revealed that out of the 19 million internet users who visited adult websites in 2022, 2.3 million which constitute 30 per cent were under the age of 18.

What’s more, some 20 per cent of 10-year-old boys are looking at explicit adult content online once a month, the study further revealed.

Not only are the kids younger, but the numbers of minors visiting sites like Pornhub and Tukif have also increased by 36 per cent over the last five years, while their adult users remain fairly stable.

The study also identified variations in gender: more than half of boys aged 12 to 17 visit adult websites every month and spend an average of one hour.

Meanwhile, teenage girls spend far less time, and that difference increases with age, while previous studies had warned of a rise in the number of minors exposed to pornographic content, this is the first time it has been quantified, Arcom said.

“The study is primarily to raise awareness, but we didn’t think it was such a big phenomenon,” said Laurence Pécaut-Rivolier, chair of Arcom’s working group on “protecting audiences and the diversity of French society”.

“We’re hoping that through the media there’ll be more conversations within families, because it’s fundamental that parents say to themselves: ‘I heard those terrible figures this morning, we have to discuss it and understand why’.”

The free platform Pornhub is by far the most visited site with 1.4 million underage visitors, amounting to 10 per cent of its audience overall.

For 75 per cent of adolescents, the smartphone is the only screen used, making it harder for parents to monitor.

Under a 2020 law, adult websites in France are required to put in place measures to prevent minors from accessing their content.

This generally takes the form of age verification, which has to go beyond simply declaring that you’re over 18, but a number of sites have failed to adopt safeguards.

While failure to comply can, in theory, lead to such sites being blocked in France, this has proven difficult to enforce.

“There are a law obliging porn sites to check users’ age, to stop minors getting access, and it’s not applied,” said Justine Atlan, the head of e-Enfance, an association working to protect children who use the internet.

She told RFI she was also angry over the lack of options for parents other than smartphones that “put youngsters in contact with pornography so freely”.

In 2021, a number of associations pushed Arcom to issue formal notices against five platforms: Pornhub, xvideos.com, xnxx.com, xhamster.com and tukif.com.

The sites contest the lawsuits on the grounds that the law doesn’t specify how the age checks are to be carried out

President Emmanuel Macron has promised to make protecting children from porn a priority.

And in February, the Digital Affairs Minister Jean-Noel Barrot announced new proposals vowing he would “put an end to this scandal”.

One of the key proposals is that people wanting to access explicit material will need to download a phone application that provides them with a digital certificate and code.

It’s based on the notion of “double anonymity”, whereby one party is responsible for verifying the user is over 18 and generating a token of confirmation, but without knowing where it will be used.

The porn site then accepts the token as proof the user is of age, but without knowing their identity.

Barrot hailed the measure as a world first. It will be debated in the French senate this summer and head to the lower house in the autumn.

“2023 will mark the end of our children accessing pornographic sites,” Barrot confidently told Le Parisien daily.

France is not alone in trying to prevent youngsters accessing adult content online.

On 1 January this year, the US state of Louisiana introduced a law requiring adult websites to screen their visitors using “reasonable age verification”.

People wanting to view websites where at least one third of the content is “harmful to minors” have to present a form of ID, such as a driving licence.

The UK government wants to make pornography websites carry out age checks and is currently discussing changes to its online safety bill in parliament.

Despite broad agreement on the need to protect children from harmful content, privacy groups in France, the US and UK among others warn that moves to introduce age checks using sensitive data could lead to security breaches.

They’ve also expressed fears it could pave the way for a digital ID system across the internet as a whole.

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