British children are surfing the Web for porn

One in nine children under 17 are using the Internet at home, but are increasingly using the Web to surf for pornographic Web sites.

The Internet is popular with children for the wrong reasons, according to the latest survey.

LONDON (ZDNet UK)--One in nine children under 17 are using the Internet at home, but are increasingly using the Web to surf for pornographic Web sites.

A survey by the Internet monitoring company NetValue has found that the number of under 17s online in the UK has nearly doubled in the last six months, growing from one million users in October to almost 1.5 million in March. Under 11s account for 249,000 users in the UK, with 1,236,000 users aged between 11 and 16.

However, the report reveals that one in five British children visited pornography sites in March, remaining for an average of 28 minutes. More than a quarter of under-17s also visited gambling sites, logging on for 11 minute sessions on average.

A recent government-backed Internet Crime Forum report found 4.8 million children under 16 to be using the Internet, of whom 23 percent made use of chatrooms. The Home Office has shown its concern over children having access to inappropriate material on the Web, as well as the threat of suspected paedophiles approaching them online, by setting up an Internet taskforce to specifically look into the issue of protecting children online.

The government will have to balance this concern with its commitment to provide all classrooms with Internet connections by 2005. The Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) has recently donated £5m to the national e-Learning Foundation to assist in the provision of IT for schoolchildren in wired up communities and ultimately throughout the UK.

"An initiative like the taskforce draws together interest groups from all sides of the debate, from the ISPs who provide the access, to the DfEE promoting educational and fun use of the Internet, to the Home Office focused on protecting children," said a Home Office spokesman.

"A collective approach will minimise the dangers facing children from criminals misusing the Internet, as well as maximising the Web's educational benefits."

The NetValue report also finds audio and visual content to be popular with children, with just over a third downloading music and watching video clips, and the same number using instant messaging.

The UK emerged with the second largest proportion of child Internet users. German youngsters lead, spending almost 11 hours online in March, more than twice the average for the rest of Europe.