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Tackling the scourge of child pornography

Submitted by on 17 Feb 2011 – 16:16

By Marina Yannakoudakis MEP

The European Parliament deals with a range of issues; several influence national agendas, others interfere with sovereign matters and some touch on topics so delicate and universal that we welcome a joint approach. In all areas there are side effects which result in simple moral issues becoming complicated by political debates. This has been most notable in the child abuse directive which I have recently been working on.

The abuse of children is a grim fact of life in our society. Child pornography for both commercial purposes and personal amusement grows with the development of the internet: it is more common than most people realise and is equally as serious a crime as that of human and drug trafficking. With this in mind you would expect any legislation to be simple in its objective and united in its approach.

As adults and parents we have a shared responsibility in protecting both male and female children. As politicians we have a duty to ensure legislation is in place to protect the vulnerable, especially children. In a world where technologies are changing and developing constantly we must be ready to react to tackle the crime and protect society’s children. The Commission recently put forward proposals to combat sexual abuse, sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. It is a comprehensive document that firmly understands the need for holistic action. The report draws on a diverse number of stakeholders, approaches and tools to combat these crimes. In my capacity as a member of FEMM I have provided an opinion to Rapporteur Roberta Angelilli of LIBE.

While the aim to protect children seems simple enough, controversy was evident from the start. Simple matters such as definitions had to be debated and clarified: for example, the Commission’s definition that child shall mean any person below the age of 18 years has, in my view, too broad a scope. I believe we need to make a distinction between a ´child´ who is under the age of consent, and a ´adolescent´ who is over the age of consent but under the age of 18 and needs to be protected from sexual exploitation.

The term ´child pornography´ is also controversial. The argument here is ´pornography’ implies an act that is socially acceptable to some. For this reason the term ´child abuse image´ has been put forward by some colleagues. I feel we should use the term ´child pornography´ as the accent is put on the sexual purpose of the act whereas ´child abuse image´ is a broad term used to describe images from a diverse range of criminal acts not necessarily of a sexual nature. Furthermore, when we consider current legislation and legal terminology in protocols and conventions relevant to this draft directive it is prudent for clarity to remain with the current wording.

However, the most controversial matter, and most talked over aspect of the Commission’s proposal, is that of the internet and the case for blocking sites which show child pornography. The issue of the controls over internet content is one that will persist over the next few years as politicians’ battle with the issue of freedom of the press, individual, censorship and human rights. I strongly believe that we need to take on the challenge of internet censorship in the sense that there are certain matters that require boundaries. The internet is a huge living organism which makes it challenging to police but some level of control is arguably necessary. Internet sales need to be clear and clean.

Child abuse on the internet is one area this debate needs to be firm in its objectives. As politicians in the European Parliament, and also within national Governments, we need to be firm in our resolve to deal with these issues. I argue, in agreement with Commissioner Malmstrom, that the ultimate aim is to remove such sites through deletion at source, but where this is not possible

blocking should be instigated. Blocking must be seen as a complementary tool in the evolving arsenal to combat such an appalling crime against the innocent. When we focus on human rights we need to remember human rights stop when they start to impinge on other people’s rights and on the safety of children.