The problem of children and teenagers accessing pornography via their cel lphones is becoming widespread.

Although no recent statistics exist for mobile devices, when the overall porn statistics (for example, 90% of eight to 16 year olds have viewed porn online, often by mistake when doing homework) are added to the near ubiquity of cell phones, it’s indicative of a growing problem.

An additional factor is that, as a study by the Youth Research Unit at Unisa shows, there is a high incidence of active online solicitation of youth in the 12 to 25 age group. There is evidence that mobile phones are being used as an extension of that type of behaviour.

Another key fact is that the mobile porn industry is growing strongly.

“Mobile phones are a great boon, not least because they empower users so effectively,” says RusselStromin, head of the Code of Conduct Committeeof the Wireless Application Service Providers’ Association (WASPA). “The problem comes when that device is operated by somebody who is not yet an adult and so is vulnerable in a number of ways. As the industry body for the mobile applications industry, we encourage our members to provide parents with tools to protect their children.”

Globally, the mobile service providers have taken the lead in this area, with the Mobile Alliance against Child Sexual Abuse Content being launched at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in 2008. In South Africa, some operators have developed ways for parents to block their children from accessing adult content via their handsets:

* Vodacom’s parental control can be accessed by dialing 111*123# from the cell phone you want to block or call Vodacom customer care on 082111.

* To block an MTN handset, dial *101# from the handset you would like to restrict content on and follow the easy-to-use menu prompts.

* Cell C and 8ta do not have this functionality yet. 8ta says it will be launching parental control in the first quarter of 2012. Note, however, that Internet access can be de-activated on any mobile. Simply request this from your provider.

All the cellular providers are able to block access to specific sites but it would be up to them to decide. Sites that are found to operate illegally may be blocked for everybody. Sites that contain adult content will be blocked for those phones with parental controls activated.

Stromin notes that these measures can help parents prevent their children from accessing adult content on sites, but they do not affect other inappropriate use of cell phones, for example sexting. Sexting is the practice of sending flirtatious SMSs that contain explicit pictures of the sender. Statistics reveal that 22% of teen girls and 20% of boys have sent nude or semi-nude photos of themselves over the Internet or their phones.

“Apart from anything else, these pictures seldom remain private and often go viral or even end up on porn sites,” Stromin explains. “Parents need to remind their children that once ‘out there’, a picture can never be retrieved or deleted. They will have to live with it for the rest of their lives. The means to block your children’s cell phones from accessing adult content is a good start, but it’s only the beginning of what parents need to do.”