Young people more exposed than ever to online exploitation, says CRA

Young people more exposed than ever to online exploitation, says CRA

Children’s Rights Alliance CEO Tanya Ward. Picture: Maxwellsphotography.ie

The Children's Rights Alliance has called on the Government to appoint an online safety commissioner after warning that young people are more exposed than ever to online exploitation, grooming, cyber-bullying, and harmful content, with little trust in tech companies to remedy the situation.

The charity made its comments ahead of today's launch of its annual report card, in which it grades the Government's performance against its commitments to children in its programme for government.

The Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and the Green Party coalition receive a C- grade overall, but one of the areas in which it is seen as underperforming is child safety online, for which it is awarded a D-.

Children’s Rights Alliance CEO Tanya Ward said that while every aspect of Government has been filtered through the lens of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is still not delivering for children in a number of areas.

"Currently, almost every child in the country is spending a large portion of their day online — whether they are receiving education, communicating with peers and family members, or accessing supports," said Ms Ward. 

"More than ever, children are open to online exploitation, grooming, cyber-bullying, and exposure to harmful content. 

"We have seen time and time again situations where tech companies have not invested enough in making the online world safer for children. 

It’s critical that the legislation provides for an effective complaints mechanism with powers to take down material comparable to what’s available in Australia so online tech providers can’t be let off the hook.

"While the Government made progress by publishing the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill in December 2020, it failed to provide for the establishment of a proper independent complaints mechanism for children and young people if a tech platform failed to uphold their rights online."

Overall, the Government has been awarded eight Ds, seven Cs, and just one B grade.

One area pinpointed as needing serious improvement was Reduced Timetables for Children with Additional Needs (D- grade), with the report card outlining how certain groups of children have been hit with having part of their education suspended during the school day, especially children with additional needs and Traveller children.

In Early Years Education, the Government also received a D grade, while the C grade awarded for addressing Family Homelessness comes with the caveat that the improvements over the past year were "mostly due to the Covid-19 emergency measures including the evictions moratorium and the ban on rent increases".

As for the Government's performance regarding direct provision, Ms Ward said: "We are seeing new levels of need surfacing in families who were previously managing, and there is a risk that problems go undetected and unsupported due to the lack of contact with outside services during lockdown."

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