WASHINGTON, D.C., May 21 (C-Fam) UNICEF took down a controversial report from its website, and when it reappeared a few days later, it was carefully edited. The report had asserted that children are unaffected by viewing sexually explicit material.
The United Nations Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF) recent report “Digital Age Assurance Tools and Children’s Rights Online” concluded that pornography may not always be harmful to children. The report suggested that children could be able to access sexually explicit material according to their age and maturity, and that children have a human right to access pornography online and through sex education.
Shortly after the Friday Fax reported this last week UNICEF removed the report from its website, only to republish a strategically edited report that deletes key statements cited in the Friday Fax, but retains the same positions of the original report.
UNICEF spokesperson Najwa Mekki told the Friday Fax, “UNICEF’s position is unequivocal: No child should be exposed to harmful content online.” But Mekki would not comment on whether UNICEF believes pornography is harmful to children.
UNICEF also declined to comment on the circumstances which led to the removal of the report from its website.
Christine Gleichert, Deputy Administrator for Public Affairs at USAID, told the Friday Fax, “The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) takes the issues of internet safety and safeguarding children from harmful content on the internet, including pornography, very seriously.” USAID is the largest single financial contributor to UNICEF.
UNICEF’s response to USAID was “that it is the unequivocal position of the organization that no child should be exposed to harmful content online,” again not making it clear that pornography might be harmful to children.
The UNICEF report suggests that children are not harmed by viewing sexually explicit material. The conclusion is based on a recent EU study that surveyed children’s online habits and found some children felt happy after seeing sexually explicit images.
The UNICEF report even claims that not all sexually explicit content qualifies as “pornography.” The report proposes a graded scale to help classify what pornography would be suitable for children of “different age groups to view.”
The UNICEF report proposes that “differences in individual children’s level of maturity and evolving capacities . . . would come into play” when creating an “age-rating system” for regulating child access to sexually explicit content.
The purpose of the graded scale, according to the report, is ostensibly to prevent infringement of a child’s right of access to beneficial sexually explicit material such as sexual and reproductive health information, including resources for LGBTQ education.
The UNICEF report admits that some research demonstrates that access to pornography at a young age is linked with certain “negative outcomes” but that “evidence suggests that children’s exposure to a certain degree of risk…helps them to build resilience.”
The report implies that determining what is harmful to children requires carefully balancing their right “to be protected online from sexual exploitation and abuse and from violence” against “their rights to privacy, freedom of expression, . . . and access to information.”