Facebook has admitted that it has 'no effective mechanism in place' to prevent children under the age of 13 from setting up profiles.

The social network decrees that users have to be at least 13 to join the site, but the lack of an effective age verification system makes it easy for pre-teens to sign up for an account.

Despite Facebook's efforts, research from a professor at the London School of Economics estimates that a massive 34 per cent of UK 9-12 year olds now have a Facebook page.

Facebook's director of policy for Facebook UK and Ireland, Simon Milner called the problem "tricky" but admitted there is no system in place to prevent young children lying about their age.

Facebook isn't unsafe?

Speaking at an Oxford Media Convention, he said: "We haven't got a mechanism for eradicating the problem."

Surprisingly, Milner also hinted that if not for a US privacy law, the age restrictions may not be in place, because the company does not feel that Facebook is unsafe for young children.

He added: "Facebook does have a rule that users have to be over 13, as does YouTube, which not a lot of people know.

"It is not because we think that Facebook is unsafe but because of a US law about children's online privacy. So we have it as a global rule."

Young kids listen, teens don't

Sonia Livingstone, the LSoE professor who conducted the research, reckons the number of underage users is only going to get higher as social media continues to flourish.

She said: "I would assume that figure is going up and would assume younger children are also having profiles.

"If parents would only say to young children, 'don't go on Facebook', we have found that they listen. Teenagers don't, but younger children do."

Despite claiming that Facebook isn't unsafe for pre-teen users (and those above 13 for that matter), Milner insisted that it has tough policies to eliminate bullying, grooming, pornography and nudity.

Via Guardian