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Child exploitation

Catch22 responds to call for evidence on the Draft Online Safety Bill

The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, taken from across the River Thames. Overlaid is text that reads: "Consultation Response".

The Draft Online Safety Bill, from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, establishes a new regulatory framework to tackle harmful content online. Our recent work on online harms, including the recent report on ‘Acceptable Use and Regulation’, places Catch22 well to respond the Bill’s inquiry.

Catch22 is a charity and a social business working to reform public services for the better. Across our education, social care and justice services, Catch22 witnesses the impact of harms which originate online and result in violence or the sexual and criminal exploitation of children and young people offline. In 2016, Catch22 published Safer Schools: Keeping gang culture outside the gates and in 2017, published Social media as a catalyst and trigger to youth violence. In 2020, we published the results of our National Consultation into Online Harms, and, more recently, the report written by academic, Dr Faith Gordon: Children and Young Peoples’ Experiences of Online Harms: ‘Acceptable Use’ and Regulation.

As well as delivering programmes focused on violence reduction and providing one-to-one support for those affected by criminal and sexual exploitation, Catch22 and Redthread co-deliver The Social Switch Project, equipping frontline professionals and youth workers with the confidence to address issues faced online.

Recommendations for future regulation

Youth workers, practitioners, children and young people, teachers, safeguarding professionals, tech companies and Police and Crime Commissioners regularly share their experiences and concerns with us surrounding actual harm caused by activity online.

Based on these insights, and from our in-depth research for our recent report, we have put together what we believe to be six fundamental principles for future regulation. We want to see future regulation prioritise:

  1. Accessibility: Future regulatory frameworks should include the requirement that defined social media, apps, video-sharing and online gaming platforms usage policies should be fit for purpose, legally compliant and accessible to all children and young people, in clear and age-appropriate formats.
  2. Information: Ensure that all policies are easy to understand and that users regardless of age or ability, can actively and critically engage with terms and conditions, user guidelines and online community rules and are appropriately informed prior to accepting policies. Any changes to terms and conditions should be clearly communicated to users and they should be informed of changes ahead of time.
  3. Action-focused and redress: Ensure that all complaints mechanisms are accessible to all children and young people and that they are effective. Allow swift action to be taken if policies are not adhered to and issuing of appropriate sanctions which are proportionate and reflect the harm done.
  4. Designed with young users: Include children and young people in design at all stages and advocate for safety-by-design.
  5. Provision of genuine opportunities: Ensure children and young people are supported to access genuine pro-social opportunities, such as employment, education, and extra-curricular activities.
  6. Realising, protecting and promoting rights: Children and young people have rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989, which the UK signed up to. The United Kingdom needs to engage more with the international children’s rights instruments, in particular the UN General Comment No. 25 on children’s rights in relation to the digital environment and embed these frameworks into reforms.