Home Office pledges £1.5m to help protect children online

The Home Office is to spend £1.5m on advertising campaigns in national newspapers and magazines to educate parents and help kids surf safely

The UK government has launched a £1.5m advertising campaign to help educate parents about the dangers of the Internet.

Home Office minister Beverley Hughes announced the child safety campaign on Monday. The adverts will appear in national newspapers and magazines, and will be promoting the message that "Paedophiles are dangerous -- not Internet chatrooms."

"This campaign is not intended to alarm people, but to alert them to the potential dangers that young people may face online and to help them surf in safety," said Hughes. "The risk of a paedophile using Internet chat to contact a child is low -- we aim to make it lower."

An estimated five million children are now online in the UK, and one quarter of these regularly spend time in chatrooms. In March 2001, the Home Office set up an Internet Taskforce to investigate concerns that paedophiles were using Internet chatrooms to meet children. The media campaign follows a recommendation by the taskforce to raise public awareness about the risks associated with children using Internet chat, and to educate parents in how to protect their children online.

Launching the campaign, Hughes said: "We all need to ensure that taking sensible precautions to protect ourselves and our children online should become as commonplace as it is to lock our doors and not talk to strangers in the offline world. Parents and carers have a crucial role to play, regardless of their Internet experience or expertise."

In August, the Scrutiny of the Criminal Law subgroup, which forms part of the taskforce, recommended the need for new laws to crack down on Internet paedophiles. The proposal includes a new criminal offence relating to a meeting with a child with the intention of engaging in a sexual activity, and a new civil order to protect children from an adult making contact with them for a harmful purpose, especially by email or through the Internet. It is still in its preliminary stage, but is designed to address a recognised gap in the law relating to the luring of children over the Internet for sexual purposes.

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