Wed, Apr 04, 2007 - Page 2 News List

NGO calls for online age-screening aid to protect children

By Flora Wang  /  STAFF REPORTER

An age-screening mechanism should be devised to ensure minors do not purchase adult merchandise on shopping Web sites, a non-governmental organization (NGO) said yesterday.

During a public hearing hosted by Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Huang Sue-ying (黃淑英), participants addressed measures to prevent minors from buying adult products such as pornography from online stores like Yahoo and PChome.

Lee Li-feng (李麗芬), secretary-general of the Taiwanese branch of the End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT), said that almost all online stores suffer from a lack of appropriate age-screening mechanisms.

This dearth has resulted in minors, who cannot access adult products in physical stores, turning to online shopping, she said.

Using the name, date of birth and ID number of a nine-year-old boy, ECPAT-Taiwan was able to place orders for adult products on four of the five major local Internet stores, she said.

"If a nine-year-old boy attempts to buy a Playboy magazine in a real bookstore, I am sure no one will sell it to him," Lee said.

"But there are no mechanisms on the Web sites to determine whether the buyer is a minor or not," Lee said.

Using the ECPAT-Taiwan experiment -- which was conducted in the past two months -- as an example, Lee said that all online stores should restrict the means of payment to credit cards when the product being purchased is intended for adult consumption only, as credit-card holders must be at least 20 years of age.

"We must keep in mind, however, that no matter what blocking methods are used, they are never 100 percent effective," said Kao Yu-chuan (高玉泉), a professor at the department of financial and economic law at National Chung Hsing University.

Kao said introducing an age-screening mechanism was obviously necessary, but the new mechanism should not influence the normal flow of Internet transactions, as online business is important for the nation's economic prosperity.

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