New police data shows British forces are going after children as young as five years old for “sexting” – sending or receiving explicit pictures.
According to data obtained by the BBC, almost 400 children under age 12 in England and Wales were contacted by police in the last three years about sexting on their mobile phones.
Police officers spoke to one five-year-old last year in an attempt to curb the increasing number of kids who use phones to send each other explicit photographs.
The five-year-old is believed to be the youngest child approached by the police in relation to sexting. Other cases involved several seven-year-olds and eight-year-olds.
As the public broadcaster notes, under current laws it’s illegal to receive or send photographs of anybody younger than 18, even if the pictures are yours.
The police claimed they issued a warning a 10-year-old who had used a mobile phone app to send his pictures to an 11-year-old.
The child who sent the text, however, couldn’t be convicted of a crime as the laws state children under age of 10 aren’t capable of being responsible for their actions.
Steve Thubron, a police official, said that the police are focusing on protecting children and their efforts aren’t aimed at criminalizing any kids.
According to Business Insider, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt once called for a ban on underage sexting, but his proposal was criticized by free speech activists and tech experts who warned about the impossibility to enforce such a law.
Mobile phone applications such as Snapchat, which is often used to send explicit images, have tried to address the issue as well. In 2015, the app asked its teenage users to “keep your clothes on” when communicating with people under the legal age.