I have called for the immediate commencement of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill, which was enacted yesterday, which will greatly help to protect children, particularly with the rise in popularity of dangerous apps.
The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill is a really welcome piece of legislation, which is going to greatly strengthen the powers of Gardaí in protecting children from online grooming. I commend my colleagues, the Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald for introducing the legislation, as well as Minister Marcella Corcoran Kennedy for fighting for this type of legislation since she was elected.
This legislation is needed now more than ever with the rise in popularity of mobile phone apps which are being misused by teenagers and even very young children.
As reported this week, a particularly popular friendship app is being used by teenagers to share explicit photos.
Some of these apps are supposedly aimed at children aged 17 and over. However, in some cases new users are able to sign up for membership despite indicating they are under the age of 17.
Moreover, there is no facility to verify users’ ages, while users can specify a preference for meeting new people who are as young as 13. This poses a glaring risk in terms of perpetrators to targeting young teens.
This problem highlights the immediate need for the commencement of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill and I look forward to it being utilised to protect children from online grooming. The legislation contains, new criminal offences to protect children against grooming; new measures to protect children from online predators; as well as new and strengthened offences to tackle child pornography.
Other well known more prominent apps and social media platforms understand these difficulties. For the most part, they are very in tune with these issues and have policies to tackle them. It is the smaller operators and newer apps that can leave children and teenagers vulnerable to exploitation.