- By Mustafa Siddiqi, Student, Jamia Ahmadiyya UK
In bizarre and rather disturbing news, UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund, one of the world’s most well-known and recognised children’s charities, published a report suggesting that efforts to restrict children from accessing adult content online, including pornography, may involve a breach of children’s “human rights”, including their rights to “access information” and “freedom of expression”.
It said, chillingly, that the possibility of their rights being apparently infringed in this way meant that different children’s rights must be “balanced”.
In the report, UNICEF asserts – without any evidence – that there is “no consensus on the degree to which pornography is harmful to children.” (http://c-fam.org/wp-content/uploads/Digital-Age-Assurance-Tools-and-Childrens-Rights-Online-across-the-Globe.pdf)
Fortunately, 487 child safety experts and advocates from 26 countries were on hand to sign a joint letter to UNICEF, co-ordinated by the US-based National Center on Sexual Exploitation, referencing an array of research demonstrating the egregious harm pornography causes to children. (https://endsexualexploitation.org/articles/unicef-report-dismissing-pornographys-harms-to-children-removed/)
As if then to twist the knife into the wound of anyone who would take fierce exception to the suggestion that children viewing pornography is somehow a part of their human rights, the report quotes a study of European children, which says that “most children who saw sexual images online were neither upset nor happy” and then proceeds to give statistics about how children felt after seeing pornographic images.
Worse still, in a way that appears not at all coincidental, but rather strategic, the final word of the section under comment is given to the statistic that “39 per cent” of Spanish children “reported feeling happy [emphasis added] after seeing such images.”
The above statistics are included in the section which seeks to assess the harm to children of viewing pornographic material. It starts off by commendably referencing research by advocates against allowing children to view pornographic material, linking it to a number of detrimental outcomes, even if it itself then undermines the very same research by suggesting that only “some” children only “appear” to be harmed by being exposed to only “some” kinds of pornography only “some” of the time – and even then the nature and extent of such harm “vary”
The huge reluctance to say that “pornography is harmful for children” is glaringly obvious and extremely disconcerting; such convoluted language is reminiscent of the slipperiest corporate terms and conditions.
Yet when it comes to suggesting why children viewing pornographic material may not be harmful for them, in the same section, the same rigorous scepticism is nowhere to be seen. The report references the above-mentioned study and uses children’s feelings to somehow inform commentary on this issue, to somehow quantify the harm they suffer. Yes – children’s feelings. The same children who can’t legally work, vote, marry or drive; who practically can’t even live without harming themselves without constant adult supervision. The mind boggles.
Setting aside temporarily, then, children’s feelings being used to inform a UNICEF report about their rights as hopefully some kind of isolated moment of madness on UNICEF’s part, noteworthy is another justification presented in the report of children accessing pornography of it apparently being some kind of educational opportunity for them. It is suggested that pornography could be a source of “vital sexuality education”, though the report is careful here to euphemise the pornography referenced as “digital sexuality education media”; it adds that some of the described content “may be classified” as pornography in “certain contexts”. What these “certain contexts” are, where sexually-explicit, pornographic material that would otherwise be wholly inappropriate – and illegal – for children to view turns out actually not to be, is a mystery.
Besides, how on earth can children viewing pornographic material be justified as being “educational”? If “educational” is taken simply to mean “conveying new information”, then, yes, children viewing pornography would certainly be extremely educational; exposing nascent, immature minds to the world of sexuality. But if the educational value for children is measured solely on the basis of information only, then why aren’t all other forms of information accessible to children, irrespective of possible risks?
Instead of telling children the importance of being responsible, considerate members of society, why aren’t children shown graphic videos of racist and/or violent abuse? Instead of teaching children not to bully others, why aren’t children shown distressing videos of other children being bullied at school? Instead of reminding children not to talk to strangers, why aren’t children shown examples of children who’ve been kidnapped and killed by strangers? Surely, such an approach would be far more direct and effective than “mere words”.
“Not showing children such content (as mentioned above) would be a potential breach of children’s rights, including their rights to access information and freedom of information,” said no one, ever; not even UNICEF. Viewing material sexually explicit, however, seems to be some kind of natural, inalienable right inherently belonging to children.
Thankfully, UNICEF later removed the report from their website. While this is undoubtedly a good thing, it is no solution to the issue – because the report itself was never the problem.
The problem goes far, far deeper. The problem is that lacking God means lacking any form of objective morality.
Objective morality is the idea that what is right is right, and what is wrong is wrong, irrespective and independent of what anyone thinks or says about it.
Take, for example, the proposition that “torturing people for fun is wrong”. Presumably, everyone would agree with this. But the real question is: why is torturing people for fun wrong? Is it because everyone agrees that it is? If it is, what if not everyone agreed that it is? What if one person, or ten people, or half of society, or if everyone minus one, or if absolutely everyone thought that torturing people for fun wasn’t wrong? Would that mean it wouldn’t be wrong anymore, or perhaps less wrong?
Surely, everyone would agree that torturing people for fun is wrong independently of whether anyone thinks it is or not. So is torturing people for fun wrong, perhaps not because anyone says it’s wrong, but because it’s inherently cruel? Yes – but again, what is cruel? Is hunting animals cruel? Is eating animals cruel? Is keeping animals as pets cruel? There are people who believe just as passionately that all three are wrong as those who believe that all three are right. Waiting for consensus on what is and isn’t cruel (which has never happened in the history of humanity and appears no more likely to happen today than at any point in the past) before doing anything about it would be extremely cruel in itself.
So if objective morality means morality not defined by what we feel, but by something independent of us, what should dictate to us what is right and wrong? The law, in practice, for most people appears to define day-to-day what’s right and what’s not. But what is the law? In the democracies of the world today, the law is what a majority of people think is right. So what if tomorrow, the majority of people decided to have a law passed that says that torturing people for fun is right?
Read further in the original source: No God, no objective morality – Meanwhile UNICEF says pornography is child’s human right – Al Hakam