The Archbishop of York has warned of the ‘immeasurable misery and heartache’ caused by online porn, as he backed the Daily Mail’s campaign for an automatic block on adult material.
Dr John Sentamu said easy access to pornographic sites was making boys see girls as ‘sex objects’, and was putting pressure on girls to have sex before they are ready.
He demanded ministers ‘put children first’ by standing up to wealthy and powerful internet companies who are opposing moves to protect youngsters.
Warning of the ‘harm’ the loss of innocence was having on young people’s mental health, he said: ‘The need for us to preserve childhood is a responsibility that we should all want to uphold.’
His intervention gives a huge boost to the campaign for tougher restrictions on hardcore photographs and videos on the web. Dr Sentamu, the second-highest figure in the Anglican Church, is seen as a front-runner to succeed Dr Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury.
He also warned about the danger to children of websites which promote anorexia, suicide, self-harm and extreme violence.
‘It is wrong that our children are being inadvertently exposed to dangerous materials online, when it could all be stopped with one simple click,’ he said.
‘Let’s send a message to our elected representatives in Parliament that we expect better.’
The Mail is campaigning for an ‘opt-in’ system for online porn, under which sexual content is filtered out unless over-18s specifically ask to be able to see such material, following a strict age verification check.
Two weeks ago the NSPCC charity and ChildLine came on board, with the helpline revealing it had seen a large increase in the number of phonecalls from children who had encountered hardcore material online.
A petition with more than 110,000 names, calling for an opt-in system, is to be handed in to Downing Street this week.
A government consultation on the issue ends on Thursday.
The Archbishop said: ‘We need to let children be children. Pornographic sites in particular are affecting young people’s views on what is normal. This can lead to boys seeing girls simply as sex objects and put pressure on them to have sex earlier.
‘It is absolutely wrong our children should be left feeling distraught and suicidal due to this needless pressure.’
Urging parents and others to contribute to the consultation, Dr Sentamu said: ‘This is our last chance to put across to ministers our concerns about the growing amount of inappropriate material being accessed by children and young people.’
He quoted a survey which found two-thirds of children aged between seven and 16 go online in their own bedrooms.
‘Parents have an increasingly hard time protecting their families from online dangers and it is right that we put proper protections in place,’ he said.
Dr Sentamu said he backs the report of a cross-party panel of MPs which earlier this year demanded an opt-in system.
‘Let us urge the Government through this consultation to compel the ISPs, who make more than £3billion a year selling internet access services, to do what they can to protect our children,’ he said. ‘The misery and heartache caused to British families is immeasurable.’
Last night Dan Boucher, of Christian pressure group CARE, said: ‘CARE strongly supports Archbishop Sentamu’s call for the Government to introduce an opt-in system.
‘This provides the best form of child protection while in no way preventing anyone 18 or over from opting in to receive adult content if they so desire.’