Children are ‘spoiled in stripping for strangers’ on a daily basis, says MP

Children are being “blackmailed into stripping for strangers”, an MP has warned, amid calls for the Government to ban smartphones for under-16s.

Conservative MP Miriam Cates (Penistone and Stocksbridge) told a debate in Westminster Hall that mobile devices were having a harmful effect on children.

She said: “This Government has less than a year left in office, but if we could pass the Coronavirus Act (2020) in one day, we can certainly, certainly, use the next few months to legislate to introduce effective measures to protect children. from real and present danger.”

Miriam Cates MP

Miriam Cates MP presented the debate in Westminster Hall (Danny Lawson/PA)

Introducing the debate, Ms Cates said: “Imagine if offering our children for sex or blackmailing strangers into stripping was a daily occurrence.

“Imagine if every mistake your child made was announced on public notice boards, so everyone could laugh and joke until the shame makes life not worth living.

“But this is not a horror movie, this is not an imaginary Wild West, this is the digital world our children inhabit, often hours a day.

“Our kids are not okay.”

Ms Cates compared the outcry over a reported link between smartphones and poor mental health to the Liquor Act 1901, which banned the sale of alcohol to children, and the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, which raised the age of consent girls from 13 to 16 years of age. .

“We will look back and ask why we allowed pedophiles, predators, greedy capitalists and foreign enemies unfettered access to our children,” she said.

SNP MP Alyn Smith said Murray Dowey, a 16-year-old boy in his Stirling constituency, died by suicide after falling victim to “sex stories”.

Sextortion victims receive nude photos and, if they return a similar photo, receive threats that the image will be shared publicly if they do not comply with demands to share data online, including credit card information.

“Sextortion is a terrible word for a terrible thing, but it’s something that we need to make young people in particular more aware of, because the risks are real and clear,” said Mr Smith.

“Murray was a bright, happy 16-year-old.

“He was brilliant at football, his team was Stirling Albion, he was well liked, he was very popular, and he took his own life after being the victim of sextortion through his Instagram chat account.”

Mr Smith said a ban on smartphones could “incite a backlash” and would be “very difficult to enforce and regulate”.

He said: “I am very impressed with the idea of ​​restricting access to schools, which would be a sensible thing to do.”

He added that police and law enforcement were “not as connected to technology companies and their products”, and “regulators don’t seem to have much teeth”.

Labour’s Sir Chris Bryant (Rhondda) said: “I think social media has enhanced some of the worst aspects of humanity.”

He called for “many more mental health professionals to be brought into schools”.

Sir Chris said that creative education “can be a really important part of building self-confidence, self-understanding, better socialisation, working as part of a team and all that, and one of the problems we’ve had for years recent than that. has fallen out”.

Technology Minister Saqib Bhatti said: “We live in the digital age and many parents want their children to have a smartphone, as these offer many benefits for children and parents, such as being connected while traveling alone.

“In other words … while we may be trying to protect children from one harm, (a ban) may lead to another harm.

“So, I talk to a lot of parents who give me the other side of the argument, and I just want to put that on the record.

“A child’s access to a smartphone should not be a decision for the government.

“Instead, we should think about empowering parents to make the right call for their children and their individual circumstances.

“Indeed, it is clear that parents can influence the market as consumers themselves and in my view that is a freedom of choice that parents and children should be allowed to exercise.”

Parliament passed the Online Safety Act in 2023, which requires tech firms to “prevent children from accessing harmful age-inappropriate content and provide clear and accessible ways for parents and children to report problems online when they arise”, according to the Government.

Over 24,000 people have signed a petition asking the Government to ban smartphones and camera phones for under 16s.

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