Government to tackle Internet child porn

The government is to target Net paedophiles as part of a drive to protect children from abuse according to a document published last week.

The guidance -- Working Together to Safeguard Children -- was published by the Department of Health to help social workers, the police, teachers and others protect children from abuse. It draws attention to the use of the Internet to distribute child pornography as a new area for concern.

The guidance highlights the dangers of chat rooms, which paedophiles use to "establish contact with children and 'groom' them for inappropriate or abusive relationships" according to the document. The government wants to raise awareness of safe use of the Internet, with information distributed to schools and parents.

The paper also addresses the link between child abuse and child pornography on the Internet. While a direct link is difficult to establish, many believe the proliferation of chld porn on the Net is increasing incidents of abuse. The report recommends police investigating the distribution and downloading of illegal images of children should also "consider whether that individual might also be involved in the active abuse of children" and recommends "the individual's access to children should be established".

David Kerr, chief executive of the Internet Watch Foundation believes there is a link between Net porn and abuse. "Some of the reports we have passed on to the police have led back to people who are part of a paedophile ring, or people that are abusing children to produce this pornography," he said. He is not sure if this means the Net has increased incidents of abuse. "The jury is still out on whether use of the Net for the circulation of pornography is merely showing up the people that were there anyway or whether availability of pornography on the Net gets more people involved in producing the stuff rather than just looking at it," he said.

Mark Steels, spokesman for the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) acknowledges the link between porn on the Net and abuse. "We have had cases of pornographic material on the Internet where there is no doubt that some of them are in the act of abusing children," he said. One police source, who did not want to be named, goes further. "There is no question that the advent of the Internet, and the easy availability of child pornography has radically changed people's habits," he said. "Operationally speaking, if we come across someone possessing illegal images of children, referring them to the child protection authorities is always in the forefront of our minds. People who dabble with it may not realise they could end up on the sex offenders'register," he said.

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