Bid to increase digital age of consent from 13 to 16 defeated in Dáil Committee

Calls from Opposition TDs to increase the digital age of consent to 16 have suffered a setback this afternoon.

The amendment to the Data Protection Bill to raise the age to 16 was defeated in the Justice Committee.

The Children’s Rights Alliance and the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC), together with, CyberSafeIreland and leading experts in the area of child safety and online support welcomed the news.

Commenting at today’s press conference in the Alex Hotel, Dublin, Tanya Ward, chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, said: “There have been several attempts to make amendments to the age of digital consent set out in legislation so we are pleased that common sense has prevailed today.

“Key bodies working for and with children have recommended 13 years as the age of digital consent.

“Children’s individual rights must be valued, and raising the age of consent to 16 will potentially undermine child protection measures and result in some services potentially being withdrawn.

“There are many reasons why children’s interests are best served by retaining the age at 13. We should be approaching this with a calm head. A number of amendments have also been tabled which strengthen children’s protection online and we welcome these.”

Grainia Long from the ISPCC said: “Online safety is the child protection issue of our time.

“No one should confuse data protection and the need to ensure children’s safety online with imposing unworkable restrictions on children’s use of services.

“We welcome the huge interest in the issue of children's online safety in recent weeks. The defeat of this amendment is a positive sign that the voice of the child is being heard.

“In recent debates, many elected representatives have made it clear that they want to do the right thing, to keep children safe online. We now need to see that interest translated into action.

“Listening to the views of the many respected academics, experts in child protection and child safety online who have recommended the age of digital consent be retained at 13 is crucial to this. Everyone who wants to keep children safe online agrees in the need for education in this area, and we need to see swift action to develop an Action Plan on Online Safety and the immediate creation of the Office of Digital Safety Commissioner.

“These are key measures that would make a real difference to children’s safety online.”

However, the Irish Heart Foundation today expressed disappointment that amendments to the Data Protection Bill that would have prevented the targeting of children by junk food marketers using data harvested by social media platforms have not been accepted by the Government.

Kathryn Reilly, Policy Manager, said the Foundation was calling on Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan to reconsider his stance before the Bill reached its Report stage, in the interests of children’s health.

“Protecting children from online marketing in particular is crucial given the established link between junk food marketing to children and childhood obesity, which State-funded research estimates will result in the premature deaths of up to 85,000 of children on the island of Ireland," she said.

“A partial ban on junk food advertising to children on broadcast media was introduced five years ago because the causal link to childhood obesity has been conclusively proved. But there is still no regulation of digital marketing that is more personalised, effective and therefore potentially more damaging.

“As a result, junk brands have achieved a wholly inappropriate proximity to children – pestering them relentlessly in school, at home, even in their bedrooms through their smartphones. It’s called the ‘brand in the hand’ and gives marketers constant access to children.”

- Digital desk

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