The NSPCC has urged the Government to end delays around the Online Safety Bill, warning as many as 13,000 online child sex offences may have been recorded since it was delayed in July.
Basing its estimations on previous Home Office crime data, the charity published its warning on the day the Bill was due to return to Parliament before it was delayed again last week.
Initially delayed over the summer by the Conservative leadership contest, the Government has said it remains committed to passing the Bill and is working to bring it back to Parliament.
The NSPCC said the estimated figures should serve as a “wake-up call” to the Government and warned that there has been a 35% rise in Childline counselling sessions about online grooming in the last six months.
It has also raised concerns that no date for the Bill’s return to Parliament has yet been set and the junior minister responsible for delivering the legislation, Damian Collins, left his post last week.
The charity’s chief executive, Sir Peter Wanless, said: “It will be incredibly frustrating for survivors of online child abuse and families up and down the country to see this vital legislation delayed yet again.
“The scale of online child abuse and continued inaction from tech firms to tackle damaging suicide and self-harm content being targeted at children should be a wake-up call to the Prime Minister to make passing the Online Safety Bill his mission.
“There is overwhelming public consensus for the crucial legislation to be bought back as a priority and with strengthened protections for children, so they are systemically and comprehensively safe from harm and abuse for years to come.”
🚨 The #OnlineSafetyBill has been delayed again. Louise’s* experience shows why this must be a priority.
Thanks to over 48,000 of you, we have sent our petition asking the Prime Minister to give children the protection they deserve online. Together we will be heard. pic.twitter.com/ICNwbysgGg
— NSPCC (@NSPCC) October 31, 2022
The charity’s warning comes as it sends a petition to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak it says has been signed by 50,000 people and calls on Mr Sunak to make it his mission to pass the Online Safety Bill.
The petition is accompanied by a letter from an online grooming victim who says the Prime Minister has “the power to stop this happening to other young people”.
The Bill has been in the making for more than five years and proposes to place strict new rules on social media and other user-generated content-centric sites.
Those in scope will be required to remove all illegal content, with the larger sites also expected to tackle a range of named “legal but harmful” content types, laying out clearly in their terms of service what they plan to tackle and how.
With Ofcom overseeing the regime as the new regulator for the sector, companies who breach the rules could face fines of up to 10% of their global turnover – potentially billions of pounds for the biggest platforms – or being blocked in the UK.
A Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport spokesperson said: “Protecting children and stamping out illegal activity online is a top priority for the Government and we will bring the Online Safety Bill back to Parliament as soon as possible.”