London, April 3 : A new survey has found that more than a quarter of eight to 11-year-olds who are online in the UK have profiles on social networking sites despite bans for users under 13 on the major sites.
The survey, conducted by Ofcom, found that most sites, such as Bebo, MySpace and Facebook, set a minimum age of between 13 and 14 to create a profile but none strictly enforce the age limit.
In the study of 5,000 adults and 3,000 kids, researchers found that 49 percent of those aged between eight and 17 who use the Internet have a profile on a social networking site.
"Social networks are clearly a very important part of people's lives and are having an impact on how people live their lives," BBC quoted James Thickett, director of market research at Ofcom, as saying.
"Children's lives are very different from what they were 20 years ago. Social networks are a way of creating a social bond," he added.
The survey revealed that the websites these children are subscribed to, despite explicitly stating the age limit, are reportedly not actively monitoring their user pool, and are not enforcing stronger preventions for underage subscribers.
Recommendations included parents being more alert and aware of their children's online activities - an area that they may have limited knowledge of, therefore possibly underestimating the risks their children have been exposed to.
"While people are aware of the status of their profile there is a general lack of awareness of the issues attached to them around privacy and safety," Thickett said.
"People put aside concerns about privacy and safety believing they have been taken care of by someone else," he added.
According to Ofcom report, 41 per cent of kids had set their profile so that it was visible to anyone.
However 16 percent of parents admitted they did not know if their child's profile could be seen or not by strangers.
"There is an issue about parenting," said Robin Blake, head of media literacy at Ofcom.
"Parents who are allowing their children to go online without supervision and support... need to recognise that their children are potentially at risk," he added.
Ofcom has therefore called on social networks to improve the visibility of privacy settings.