14/09/2016 13:24 BST | Updated 15/09/2017 06:12 BST

Let's Make Sure Online Porn Is Strictly For Over 18s

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Imagine this scenario. A thirteen year old sets off from home to walk to school one morning. On the corner of the street is a sex shop. They walk in through the open door and buy a selection of porn mags and DVDs using their parent's credit card. No one stops them and the shopkeeper doesn't ask how old they are.

At break time they gather with a group of friends to share their haul. And back at home that evening the same teenager opens a parcel from an overseas adult film company who have supplied them with a selection of DVDs which they spend the evening watching in their bedroom.

In reality of course, this simply wouldn't be allowed.

There are laws that ban the sale of pornography to anyone under the age of 18 through 'licenced sex establishments', and R18 videos may not be supplied by mail order.

But replace these companies with commercial internet porn and we have a scenario that is happening every day. The laws that protect children in the UK from pornography date from a pre-internet age and are now woefully inadequate.

The Digital Economy Bill, currently going through Parliament, is a vital opportunity to prevent children from seeing adult content online and the NSPCC has welcomed and contributed to the Government's consultation on internet age-verification.

However, we are concerned that current proposals to regulate commercial porn sites do not go far enough and that the penalties will be shrugged off by companies that breach the new legislation, particularly those that are based outside the UK.

So we are today urging the Government to bolster the powers of the new online regulator.

Firstly, to enable them to compel credit card firms to cut off income to porn sites that continue to allow children access. And secondly, for the regulator to demand that internet service providers (ISPs) in the UK block the offending websites, as a last resort.

Some people are against additional online regulation of adult content, but all we are asking for is that child safeguards in place offline are applied online.

If action isn't taken a generation of children will have been stripped of their childhoods by seeing often extreme and violent porn online.

Recent research by the NSPCC found that young people are as likely to see online porn accidentally as search for it, and that repeated viewing can lead them to see porn as realistic. Exposing children to porn at a young age, before they are equipped to cope with it, can be extremely damaging to their developing understanding of sex and relationships.

Although the major ISPs, have done much to protect children by introducing content filters on home broadband and mobile networks, the responsibility to block access to children must lie with the porn sites themselves. Online age verification checks to restrict under-18 access are robust and well established, for example for online gambling, so the technical solution exists.

And this is not about censorship - we don't want to stop adults from viewing legal pornography. Tougher regulation will simply bring sites who don't act responsibly in line with those who are already making age verification a priority; the adult industry in the UK is supportive of the changes.

Ultimately, if a company can't operate within the law of the land they should not be able to do business in the UK.