More than 3,500 online child abuse crimes will take place every month that the Online Safety Bill is delayed, children’s charity the NSPCC has warned.
The charity said its analysis of Home Office crime data found a more than tenfold increase in online child sexual abuse offences recorded by police in England and Wales over the last decade.
According to that data, 42,503 obscene publication (child abuse image) and sexual grooming crimes were logged over the last year, up from 3,706 a decade ago.
The NSPCC said it has now written to both Conservative leadership candidates to urge them to commit to passing the online safety regulation in full and without delay when they become prime minister.
The charity said delaying the Bill further or “watering down” the proposals would “represent the reversal of an important manifesto commitment that commands strong levels of public support”.
The Online Safety Bill had been due to continue its passage through Parliament last week, but this was postponed until the autumn when either Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak take office.
The online safety laws would compel social media and other platforms to protect their users from harmful content, placing a duty of care on them, with large fines and access to their sites being blocked should they breach the new rules.
But the NSPCC said the delay would leave more children at risk of being groomed, and said the sheer scale of the problem must serve as a wake-up call to the next prime minister.
“With every second the clock ticks by on the Online Safety Bill an ever-growing number of children and families face the unimaginable trauma of preventable child abuse,” NSPCC chief executive Sir Peter Wanless said.
“The need for legislation to protect children is clear, commands overwhelming support from MPs and the public and builds on the UK’s global leadership position in tackling harm online.
“Robust regulation can be delivered while protecting freedom of speech and privacy.
“There can be no more important mission for Government than to keep children safe from abuse and the next prime minister must keep the promise made to families in the election manifesto and deliver the Online Safety Bill as a national priority.”