Looking back to 2020, it seemed clear that age verification for pornography, mandated by national law, was nearing the point of practical reality.
The United Kingdom had come close to implementing age verification in late 2019. Parliament had already approved the law and an industry regulator had been appointed. But, the UK government decided to change its mind at the very last moment. It did so, it is thought, in the face of a general election where there was a perceived lack of buy-in from voters. The official reason given for the change was that the approved law did not include pornography accessed via social media. This was a factual criticism, but it ignored the much larger role that commercial pornography suppliers have in delivering the majority of pornographic content consumed by children.
Around the world progress towards age verification has remained slow. On the positive side, awareness is building as more governments recognise that pornography use by children is a real issue. It is leading to a range of negative consequences. Better research involving local young people is appearing in many countries. This makes the relevance of age verification to future voters much more pertinent. Once governments become convinced that action is required, the questions then revolve around how to legislate. At this point they can consider exactly what type of scheme to implement.
On the other hand, not all governments are convinced that age verification is either desirable or practical. In some countries we are seeing other child protection measures being implemented as an earlier or higher priority. An example is banning the creation and viewing of Child Sexual Abuse Material, also known as CSAM.
Educational initiatives highlighting the potential risks of pornography use also have a place in government policy. All progress towards protecting children must be applauded. However, age verification remains as the tool which is likely to produce the biggest impact on the lives of the largest number of children.
In this section of The Reward Foundation website we offer an overview of the current situation in many nations.
If you know of progress on age verification in other countries, please drop me an email at email@example.com.
According to the United Nations there are currently 193 countries in the world. Based on what The Reward Foundation learned from 2020’s age verification conference, along with intelligence from John Carr, I invited representatives of 26 countries to contribute updated reports. Colleagues in 16 countries responded with enough information to allow me to include them in this report.
Please note that this is a convenience sample. It is not a randomly controlled, balanced or scientific one. There is no relationship between how much pornography is viewed in a country, and whether or not it is included in this report. For example, the United States is the country consuming the greatest volume of pornography. There is no current political appetite at the federal level for age verification in the US. So we have not pursued it for this report.
You can also see the report from the 2020 conference on our website too.
Age Verification around the world
To help make the overall picture clear, I have grouped what I have learned about age verification into two broad categories. Please don’t take my placement of countries in the second group as definitive. In many cases there was a difficult judgement call as the development of interest and commitment by politicians can change quite dramatically in a very short time. Countries are listed in alphabetical order within each group. The reports vary a lot in length depending on what is happening around age verification. I have committed more time to national initiatives which I feel may support wider thinking around age verification. I have also included information about other child protection initiatives and the increasing availability of research reports specific to individual countries.
Group 1 consists of those countries where the government is active in moving towards enacting age verification legislation. I have placed Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, the Philippines, Poland and the United Kingdom in this group.
Group 2 is made up of countries where age verification has yet to gain traction on the political agenda. I have placed Albania, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Ukraine in this group.
Age verification can help us move forward collectively to protect children through effective legal initiatives.