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UNICEF Report Argues Pornography Is Not Always Harmful to Children

UNICEF argumenta en informe que la pornografía no siempre es nociva para los niños

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The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund, also known as UNICEF, released a controversial report in April 2021 on the rights of the very young on the internet, where it asserted that pornography is not always harmful to children.

The issue, touched on vaguely in a few paragraphs and scant data, argued that government measures to restrict children’s access to pornography should take into account children’s rights to access information, online freedom and their privacy rights.

The report, titled Digital Age Assurance Tools and Children’s Rights Online across the Globe, acknowledges that, “there are several different kinds of risks and harms that have been linked to children’s exposure to pornography.” However, it also notes that “but there is no consensus on the degree to which pornography is harmful to children.”

UNICEF asserts that pornography is not always bad for children. (Screenshot of the report).

“Prominent advocates point to research arguing that access to pornography at a young age is linked with poor mental health, sexism and objectification, sexual aggression and other negative outcomes. The evidence suggests that some children appear to be harmed by exposure to some kinds of pornography at least some of the time, but that the nature and extent of that harm vary,” UNICEF explains.

“There is conflicting evidence regarding how many children worldwide are accessing pornography online, and how often. Some studies have found that boys are more likely to experience greater exposure to pornography at an earlier age, and they are more likely to be exposed to violent or abusive images such as rape, whereas girls are more likely to be subject to involuntary or problematic exposure. The 2020 EU Kids Online study compared survey findings from 19 European countries and found that in most countries, most children who saw sexual images online were neither upset nor happy tranging from 27 per cent in Switzerland to 72 per cent in Lithuania); between 10 per cent and 4 per cent were fairly or very upset; and between 3 per cent of children (in Estonia) and 39 per cent (in Spain) reported feeling happy after seeing such images.”

Unicef’s report

UNICEF removes report after request from child safety experts

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation published an article noting that UNICEF’s handling of the issue of children’s access to pornography was “troubling” and drew questions from child safety experts.

In the section where UNICEF points out that there is no consensus on whether pornography is always harmful or harmful to children, the center explains that the UN agency in that message did not take into account “the copious amounts of research on pornography’s harms to children”.

“Furthermore,” the National Center on Sexual Exploitation went on to explain, “UNICEF’s report expressed numerous misgivings about implementing age verification laws and systems that would reduce the number of children being exposed to online pornography.”

A UNICEF representative plays with a group of children from the migrant caravan on Tuesday in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico. (Image: EFE)

The institution highlights concerns that UNICEF overemphasizes misgivings about government measures to limit children’s access to pornography. The UN agency argues in several passages that the right to privacy and online freedom are obstacles to laws on, for example, age verification for accessing pornographic sites on the internet.

“The amount of weight which the report apportioned to these misgivings, together with the lack of weight it apportioned to pornography’s harmful effects on children, send a very dangerous and socially irresponsible message. UNICEF’s report ultimately sets the stage for harmful policy decisions in the future, based on a misunderstanding of these issues.”

National Center on Sexual Exploitation

While the controversial report was barely reported in the media, it did attract the attention of child safety experts. In fact, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) coordinated a letter to UNICEF signed by 487 child safety experts and advocates from 26 countries asking the UN agency to stop disseminating its report and to update it with more accurate and complete data and information, which they included in the letter.

After receiving the letter, UNICEF took the report down and stopped disseminating it momentarily, which NCOSE welcomed in its article.

Emmanuel Alejandro Rondón is a journalist at El American specializing in the areas of American politics and media analysis // Emmanuel Alejandro Rondón es periodista de El American especializado en las áreas de política americana y análisis de medios de comunicación.

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